Editorial: Nuclear scare proves unpreparedness


U.S. Navy

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

In less time than it takes to log into a two-factor authenticated Pitt email account, an employee of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency caused pandemonium in the state with the click of a mouse.

During a routine checkup of the state’s nuclear response system Saturday, a worker responsible for testing the system inadvertently sent an alert telling Hawaiians a ballistic nuclear warhead was heading toward them. Department workers didn’t correct the false alarm for 38 minutes. While other state politicians, including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, confirmed before then that the message was wrong, many on the islands and the mainland were understandably troubled and angered.

One person who seemed markedly unconcerned about the state of affairs in the Pacific, however, spent the duration of the crisis on a golf green in Florida. But President Donald Trump — whose first interaction with the public after the occurrence was a tweet decrying “Fake News” — wasn’t the only part of the response that’s concerning for future events requiring nuclear preparedness. The United States is woefully unprepared for a nuclear attack in 2018, and the current federal administration is only making matters worse.

In the aftermath of Saturday’s scare, Hawaii’s state government took full responsibility for the mistaken alarm. Trump told reporters outside his golf course Saturday as much — that he considered the whole incident a state issue.

“That was a state thing, but we are going to now get involved with them,” Trump said. “They took total responsibility. But we are going to get involved.”

Given the massive failure Hawaii’s government experienced trying to organize nuclear attack preparedness on its own, looking toward other levels of government might seem appealing in some ways. In a tweet Saturday, Federal Communication Commission Chairperson Ajit Pai called the state’s emergency notification system malfunction “absolutely unacceptable,” promising a federal investigation into Hawaii’s lack of safeguards against false alarms.

However, it’s hard to see the federal government — under its current direction — as much of a help for Hawaii’s — and the entire United States’ — nuclear attack preparedness. The secretary of energy is responsible for a wide variety of issues, including how the nation deals with its nuclear weapons arsenal and monitors nuclear tests by other countries, such as North Korea. Trump’s energy secretary — former Texas governor Rick Perry — has memorably proposed shutting down the department entirely.

Of course, how state and federal agencies react to nuclear fears and the potential for nuclear attacks would be much different if nuclear tensions with North Korea weren’t so serious already. And much of the blame for the friction falls on Trump, who boasted over Twitter earlier this month that his nuclear button was bigger than North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s.

It’s angering and discomforting that both state and federal governments have such little concern for an issue that is looming larger and larger as tensions increase. Commonsense responses to a nuclear strike, such as seeking shelter as far below ground level as possible, shouldn’t be the only line of defense for Americans, whether in Honolulu or in Pittsburgh.

We shouldn’t have to worry about what to do in the event of a nuclear strike, but because of our leaders, we do. The least they can do now is make sure what happened in Hawaii this weekend never happens again.

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