WHT editorial: Threat real because atmosphere fosters belief

The missile warning mistake is unforgivable.

By now, 24 hours later, that’s not a novel opinion; it’s been shared by politicians, pundits and Hawaii citizens alike. Those responsible for the false alarm have to go.

Gov. David Ige knows that. So does Vern Miyagi, administrator for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, who personally took blame for the mistake by personnel in his office on an interview that aired on CNN Saturday morning as well as at a press conference later that afternoon.

It was his employee who mistakenly pushed the wrong buttons that triggered the missile warning that panicked Hawaii citizens for over half an hour. People, rightfully, freaked out.

In West Hawaii, they flocked to police offices, called emergency dispatch and showed up to the Hawaii Community Hospital seeking help.

After it was corrected and the false alarm notice was issued, Ige and Miyagi spoke on national TV and looked like men who knew their days were numbered. There’s no coming back from that. Not to make light, but Jan. 13 will be the day Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa won the Hawaii gubernatorial primary election.

This is an embarrassing stain on Hawaii, a state that already has a national reputation for being a place that has, let’s just say, casual workplace standards.

But the problem is a state problem and it will be corrected at the state level — quickly. One silver lining, perhaps, is the mess-up showed us how much practice we all need should the drill turn real.

Let’s not forget, however, how real that brief panic was.

At 8 a.m. on a clear Kona Saturday, for those of us who looked down at our phone or heard the radio or TV interrupted with, “This is not a drill,” the fright was anything but fake.

It was real because that is our world. Political tensions between the United States and North Korea have heightened substantially as North Korea improved its nuclear program and President Donald Trump threatened and chided the unpredictable, wild dictator, Kim Jong Un, along the way.

Trump has spent a good part of the year spitting taunts in the face of a madman and Un has responded in kind.

It all left Hawaii implementing a missile attack response plan its citizens should take — go inside, stay there, and stay tuned — as well as new attack warning sirens. Would that be the case if anyone else had been elected? Would tensions be as heightened without the tough talk? Who’s to say? All we know is the here and now, and love it or hate it, that’s our national reality.

Back here in Hawaii, we can clean house for those responsible for the botched warning and those who supervise those responsible. We should, we will, and we hope it’s already underway.

But nationally, can Hawaii do anything to change an atmosphere where heads of state threaten each other with nukes and missile warnings on the islands seem seriously real?

That’s unlikely. Hawaii and its small electorate will have little say in upcoming national elections, regardless of what the candidate’s foreign policy platform is — just like in many elections before it.

So we’ll have to just wait and watch, like spectators — only with quasi-targets on our back when it comes to North Korea — in the coming years and see if this will be the new norm or if anything else, regardless what, is selected.

That’s scary, too.