Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hawaii Missile Alert Shows Lack of Civil Will

The false missile alert in Hawaii, we have learned, was the result of a rogue drill. The drill was meant to test the ability of civil defense officials to respond to an alert, but workers and a supervisor weren’t properly prepared for the drill, and the wording of the alert in the drill incorrectly contained a statement saying it was not a drill. Hawaii has temporarily suspended all such drills. Knowing that there was never any true information indicating a danger lightens the situation somewhat but is not as reassuring as it might be.

The problem of the rogue drill was compounded by at least five other problems. There are weaknesses in the user interface of the software used by state civil defense workers to send alerts. The state had no plan in place to retract an incorrect alert, and that was the main reason it took most of an hour to issue a retraction. The Pentagon and White House also obviously did not have a plan to react to this scenario. The governor was unable to respond quickly because he had lost his Twitter password.

The whole situation points to a lack of civil will. The officials charged with a response in this specific situation were not particularly interested in forging an effective response while the masses who did respond to the alert were prevented from getting any meaningful information on the events that were taking place. Secrecy and opacity worked against the government in this episode. An institution created for the purpose of a coherent collective response to a crisis instead became an obstacle that prevented any meaningful response.

There were plenty of people, more than a million paying close attention in Hawaii and beyond, who could have helped sort things out if they had not been kept completely in the dark. More than a dozen crises of 2017 showed how well Americans self-organize when the situation calls for it. In the false Hawaii missile alert, the government was the obstacle that prevented that from happening.