Delusions and Shortcuts: Whoopsie Daisy! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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The image above helpfully explains the “snafu” of the false ballistic missile attack warning that occurred in Hawaii on Saturday, January 13. The image is from this Washington Post story that states:

Pushing the “wrong button” was the explanation provided in an official timeline for that false warning that scared the devil out of people in Hawaii on Saturday morning alerting them to an incoming ballistic missile that never was. “The wrong button was pushed,” declared Vern Miyagi, head of the state’s emergency management agency.

But as The Washington Post’s Amy Wang reported, the errant employee actually was working with a drop-down menu on a computer program, from which the official chose the wrong item.

On Monday, state officials released an image of that menu, provided to The Post by Hawaii News Now, and it shed some light on why it might be confusing.

The menu, which triggers alerts, contains a jumble of options, ranging from Amber alerts to Tsunami warnings to road closures. Some of them, such as “High Surf Warning North Shores” are in plain English.

Others, including the one for a missile attack, “PACOM (CDW)-STATE ONLY,” use shorthand initials. (PACOM refers to the United States Pacific Command based in Hawaii.)

Yes, you read that right. Hawaii’s state-run emergency service has the warning of an event (with the possible exception of a tsunami) that would carry the highest toll on human lives, the warning of hellfire raining down from the sky, just sort of mixed in among other benign-by-comparison warnings. Now, I don’t claim to be an expert when it comes to emergency warnings, but I think that it would make sense to have the actual ballistic missile warning be in a different, larger font, and “in plain English,” so that it’s not accidentally clicked on. Or, and I know this might seem like some crazy idea, but what if the actual ballistic missile warning was a button, and not jumbled in with other warnings in a drop-down menu? Like, a big red button under a glass door, with the words “ACTUAL MISSILE ATTACK WARNING.”

In big, capital letters.

Underlined.

In bold.

And a few signs surrounding it and pointing to it with big arrows that say things like “DON’T EVER PRESS THIS BUTTON, EVEN AS A GOOF, UNLESS YOU ARE REALLY SURE ACTUAL MISSILES ARE ON THE WAY TO HAWAII.”

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This is one of those stories that I feel I shouldn’t even bother to write about, as it satirizes itself. It reminds me of what Norm MacDonald has said is his favorite kind of joke, wherein the setup and the punchline mirror each other. For example, “Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts were divorced today. The reason: he’s Lyle Lovett and she’s Julia Roberts.”

I’m not going to make the typical, knee-jerk libertarian argument that this happened because Hawaii’s emergency management agency is run by the state rather than by a private company. Humans make mistakes, and some private sector worker could have made the same dummy error if using the same drop-down menu.

But, perhaps there’s a different answer as to why this happened, something other than the official explanation given by the state of Hawaii’s emergency management agency. I mean, it’s not like government not being honest is outside the realm of possibility. When you take into consideration all of the current nuclear IBM saber rattling between the States and North Korea, having what amounts to a Double Secret Fake Drill makes sense, right? When people think danger is real, they act differently than when they think something is “just a drill.”

It may seem, at first glance, to be unethical or irresponsible but what is a better way to know how the citizenry will conduct itself if they think the danger is real? What better way to evaluate the effectiveness of disaster preparation?

Yes, this would be like Principal Skinner instructing Groundskeeper Willie to actually set part of Springfield Elementary School ablaze in order to get a clear gauge on how prepared the children are to evacuate in an orderly and safe fashion. But, wouldn’t you kind of feel better if you knew the Hawaii official did it deliberately to see if people could react, at least, in a somewhat rational and responsible manner, rather than have the whole thing be one big whoopsie daisy?

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And that’s the way it is, as far as you know.

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Dillon Eliassen is the Managing Editor of Being Libertarian. Dillon works in the sales department of a privately owned small company. He holds a BA in Journalism & Creative Writing from Lyndon State College, and needs only to complete his thesis for his Master’s of English from Montclair State University (something which his accomplished and beautiful wife, Alice, is continually pestering him about). He is the author of The Apathetic, available at Amazon.com. He is a self-described Thoreauvian Minarchist.