Sense of ‘disbelief’ during ballistic missile alert

By Shaun Moriarty
Citizen Chronicle Writer
shaun@thecitizenchronicle.com

LAHAINA, HAWAII — Justin Nuckle’s children were watching Saturday morning cartoons when an alert flashed across the screen: a ballistic missile was coming.

“The first alert we saw was on TV while the boys were watching cartoons,” the Southbridge native said. “That was immediately followed by some text messages from some friends and my mom.”

Due to an error during a shift change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, alerts were sent to cellular phones as well as television and radio stations that a ballistic missile was inbound to Hawaii. Residents and tourists were instructed to seek immediate shelter and informed the alert was not a drill. In the end, it wasn’t a drill, but rather a mistake that set off widespread panic in the Hawaiian islands. State officials revoked the alert 38 minutes after it had been issued.

While an alert that nuclear annihilation may be imminent would likely cause many to panic, Nuckle and his family did not. In fact, they hardly flinched.

“My household remained very calm,” Nuckle reported. “Other than turning on CNN and pulling up a local information site on our computer, we really didn’t react at all.”

Nuckle, who moved to Hawaii 13 years ago, said it wasn’t bravery or machismo that prevented any panic. It was simply that the entire experience was too surreal to know how to respond.

“I’m not sure why we stayed so calm,” he said. “It may have been a bit of disbelief.”

He added: “I think my mom was pretty shaken up.”

State officials in Hawaii said over the weekend that had the threat been real, people would have had as little as 12 minutes to find shelter. Unaware the alert was erroneous and while trying to figure out their next move, Nuckle turned to the internet.

“I looked up ballistic missiles online to see if there was any point in trying to seek cover,” he explained. “What I found made it seem like there wasn’t much point in taking cover.”

Nuckle indicated the initial alerts likely began roughly 20 minutes before he caught it on the television.

“For us it was only about 15 minutes from when we learned about it until it was declared a false alarm,” he said.

The family likely would have received the ballistic missile warning sooner, but Nuckle said he believes he and his wife, Courtney, had disabled the alert feature on their cellphones.

“Most every time it rains here we get flash flood alerts,” he reasoned.

Asked if he would seek to allow emergency notifications to once again appear on his phone, Nuckle said he was unlikely to.

“No plans to turn the alert feature back on,” he said. “There are a number of systems in place to alert the general public in such situations.”

Nuckle also expressed an outlook that little could have been done with so little time between an alert being issued and ballistic missiles hitting their target, and thus one shouldn’t obsess over such fears.

“I don’t feel there’s much need in worrying about things beyond your control,” he explained.

Ultimately, a weight came off the family’s shoulders when word came that the alert was erroneous.

“Obviously, learning it was a false alarm brought a sense of relief,” Nuckle said. “I never felt any real anger. Maybe some disappointment in the political direction our country has decided to take.”

Had the threat been real, however, being with Courtney, 4-year-old son Avery, and Briggs, nearly 2 years old, provided some solace. “I was relieved that I was with my wife and kids if it were real.”

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