Hawaii missile scare reminds us to be prepared


When I was a member of Scouts Canada as a youth, I rallied to the motto “be prepared.” Those two words served me well on many a camping expedition keeping me mindful of the need to think and plan ahead, to be resourceful, practice good stewardship, and strive to be proactive versus reactive whenever there was a deviation from the planned routine. I would argue that those words taught me how to be resilient in the face of adversity.

The recent emergency response mishap in Hawaii, whereby citizens were initially told via civil defence broadcast and messaging that a missile attack was imminent, caught many people – state government included – unprepared. Citizens and tourists were directed to seek shelter and … hope for the best. Last I heard, hope is not a strategy. This is where the “be prepared” message comes in handy.

Thankfully, albeit after 38 minutes of panic, chaos, and consternation, authorities were able to assure frightened citizens that the whole sad episode was in fact, a false alarm attributed to human error. If anything, this situation demonstrated that emergency preparedness is not to be taken lightly. That some Hawaiians sought refuge in caves and took drastic measures to safeguard their families amidst the confusion reveals a high level of seriousness accorded to emergency broadcasts. Such threats are very real! Canada is not immune.

As North Korea continues to test and advance its intercontinental ballistic capability, there is a very clear danger. ‘The true north strong and free’ is subject to attack. Are we prepared for such a reality? Do we have the infrastructure in place to get sufficient warning out in time? What is the status of our capability to shield ourselves from a missile attack? The Hawaii incident raises more questions than answers.

The 20 countries that participated in the Vancouver Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula promised to consider new unilateral measures against Kim Jong-un’s regime. That said, with China and Russia absent from the table talk, and economic sanctions serving as the current deterrent, there is continued call to address the increasing threatening posture of North Korea’s nuclear capability.

As a naval officer for more than 30 years now, I see how the ‘be prepared’ of my scouting days transcends the RCN’s motto “ready aye ready.” They are congruent messages. Our military leadership purposes that our sailors, troops, and aircrews are responsive to any given threat. We train to this end. Emergency drills, table top scenarios, simulations, and strategic planning help. Maintaining capital assets, infrastructure, and most importantly human resources is of mounting importance. When you hear the “this is a test of the emergency broadcast system” message over the radio or on TV, do you ever really stop and think about what you would do in the advent of a real emergency? Perhaps you should.

The opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics will see a combined contingent of North and South Korean athletes marching side by side. There is even talk of a combined Korean hockey team! Will wonders never cease? Perhaps hope, after all, is a good strategy? Until then – keep your eye on the sky and be prepared!

Tim Cusack is an educator, writer, and member of the naval reserve.


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Tim Cusack