Saturday the Civil Defense system in Hawaii sent out a mass alert regarding an inbound ballistic missile, sending many residents of the 50th state into a near panic. Luckily, the alert was an error.

But what if it wasn’t? The fact is that the North Korean regime is trying to develop a nuclear delivery capability. Experts believe there’s an even chance we’ll be going to war with North Korea in the not-so-distant future. It would be in the interests of Hawaiians to start rediscovering Cold War Civil Defense measures, especially since state leadership doesn’t intend on updating the old Civil Defense infrastructure like fallout shelters.

It is unlikely that North Korea would be able to penetrate our missile defense screens, but missiles aren’t the only way to reach Hawaiian shores. Unconventional delivery platforms, such as container ships or even rafts, pose a serious threat. Nuclear blasts are most deadly when they are airbursts, but a coastal sea level detonation would have horrific long-term impacts. With either scenario, it’s important to understand that the majority of Hawaiians would survive the initial blast. The next few weeks, when radiation and fallout are the main killers, are what we can prepare for. Civil unrest is also a consideration, but while some fetishize disaster scenarios and human villainy, we tend to see that Americans shine when disaster strikes.

When the alert went out, it became clear via Social Media that many, maybe most, Hawaiians didn’t really know what to do. Was it real? Was it a drill (even though the message stated clearly “not a drill”)? Was the system hacked? The answers simply don’t matter in the the 10-15 minute window between alert and detonation. Getting safe is what matters. 

After the alert was rescinded people started asking ‘what are we going to do if this happens for real’? After a couple of different Facebook discussions, I thought it would be a good idea to push this out:

Have a response plan. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Start by identifying who your family is. In times of stress, people’s focus narrows, so we forget about grandmothers, aunts, and cousins from the mainland spending the summer learning to surf. Where is your rally point? Will you all meet at home, or do you have an office tucked away behind a concrete parking garage that may make a better fallout shelter? Really think about what your desired end-state is and backwards plan to get to that point.

Plan for contingencies. What if all of you are 30 minutes from home at the movies together? How do your actions change if you’re at home, your child is in daycare, and your spouse is at work? How do you communicate? The military uses an acronym called PACE, which stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency, for communications plans. Having a PACE plan for actions and communications is critical to operational success.

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Drill and rehearse. Having a plan is great, no plan survives first contact. You also have to exercise your plan. Rehearsing allows you to better adapt and overcome surprises and challenges. What if you get stuck in traffic? Maybe home is 5-10 minutes away on foot, cutting through neighborhoods, so do you ditch the car? Drills will build muscle memory and allow you to adapt to unforeseen circumstances faster, as the architecture of the plan isn’t occupying cognitive resources. You don’t have to think about the goals and end states, so you can focus entirely on the unexpected.

There’s no shortage of nuclear survivability information to be found out on the web. Here are some things to consider as you embark on your Google journey. Most experts recommend having about two weeks worth of food and water. You can minimize fallout particle exposure by covering as much skin as possible. Cheap painting coveralls are better than shorts and a t-shirt. Radiation on the other hand isn’t so easy to fend off, but keeping a supply of Potassium Iodate on hand might be a good idea. It can protect your vulnerable thyroid from low levels of radiation.

So let’s hope that diplomacy wins and peace breaks out, but spend a few hours preparing for the worst, and if the worst happens, you’ll be glad you did.