January 16, 2018


The good news about Hawaii's false alarm : As failures go, what happened in Hawaii was a success. (Daniel W. Drezner January 16, 2018, Washington Post)

First, and most important, was that Hawaii did not descend into chaos. The Atlantic's Alia Wong focuses on the sheer terror the alert created, but also noted that, "As of Sunday, there haven't been any official reports of deaths or injuries attributed to Saturday's emergency alert." Think about this for a second: residents of an entire state were told by authorities that the world as they knew it might be coming to an end. It is extraordinary that this account from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser contains the worst breakdown of law and order that I have seen from the event:

Celeste Russell was driving near the 7-Eleven in Waimanalo.

"There was a red light and people were beeping their horns for people to go through it, instead of stopping, because obviously, they wanted to get home themselves. So it was bad," she said.

That's actually not that bad!! This was partly due to the time of the alert (a little after eight in the morning on a weekend), partly due to the lack of supporting evidence for an actual attack (no air-raid sirens). Still, there was no breakdown in social order. No grocery stores or hardware stores or any stores whatsoever appear to have been looted.

This is important to stress, because it represents a sharp contrast with how situations like this tend to be fictionalized. As someone who has argued that certain genres have exaggerated the fragility of society, it is a nice piece of confirming evidence.

A related piece of good news is that, in contrast to Fisher's concerns, there is no evidence that North Korea was provoked by the Hawaii alert. This might be due to luck. It might be due to the recent thaw in North-South Korean relations. It could also be that the alert was not offensive in nature. Or it could mean, as Michael Horowitz and Elizabeth Saunders have argued, that the Korean peninsula is not quite the hair-trigger situation that yours truly some have suggested.

The most important piece of good news, however, is that this mistake will lead to improvements in the system.

Posted by at January 16, 2018 8:33 AM