The Missing Story: Maybe the fact is – if there is a nuclear attack, there may be nothing the public can do to save itself. Maybe that’s the story no one wants to really look at.

The most alarming picture Sunday from Hawaii experiencing an incoming ballistic missile wasn’t the highway billboards or chyron crawl over a sport program on local TV, but rather the panic in the streets. People were running for their lives, hiding in bathrooms or closets, and saying “good byes” to their families. Why or where were they running, or simply – in a nuclear attack – would it have mattered?

And why isn’t that the most prominent question for Day 2 of this story?

While the cause of Sunday’s false missile alarm in Hawaii needs to be investigated, even more shocking is the fact that no one seems to have known what to do, where to go, or how to react.

And that confusion and panic is frighteningly still unaddressed in news coverage.

It is knee-jerk to point fingers and decry the accident. And goodness knows there are been countless ‘national security consultants’ who have flooded the airwaves wringing their hands offering arm chair speculation about the accident safely from Washington, a distance of 4,826 miles from Honolulu. But their emotionally delivered insight hasn’t shed any light on the larger question… in this day and age of ever-larger nuclear buttons on desktops, what is left for the rest of us to actually do?

Many in the news business will recall the hackneyed phrase oft-spoken when there is a screw up on air, “Broadcasting will stop while we assess the damage and assign the blame.”
Today we are witnessing the mea culpa, the governor taking responsibility, the President assuring us “we’re going to get involved” in the inquiry, but really. So what?

The recent wildfires in California, the hurricanes in Puerto Rico and Houston and more remind us of the necessity of having an escape route from imminent danger along with packed bags of our most important papers. But in a nuclear attack… escape where? And will there be any one left to inspect our papers.

Anyone growing up in the 50’s and 60’s will remember Bert the Turtle and “Duck and Cover.” Many of us remember practicing in our classrooms hiding under desks while being shooed away from the windows. As if, now looking back on that, would it have mattered in the least? There was a day when the yellow and black nuclear fallout shelter signs adorned buildings on every block… today, I wouldn’t know where to even look for a shelter in my community.

Once again, a lot of media is focused on the ‘what happened,’ or the ‘how did it happen”? Both are important questions but fall short of the more important — so what do we do?

Absent the distraction of politics or personality in either Washington or Pyongyang, Sunday’s incident in Hawaii proves that we may have early warning detection systems… even notification protocols… but what is it the public is supposed to do to save itself?

And why isn’t that prominently included in today’s media coverage?

As an old assignment managing editor, I’m just asking…

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Author: Peter Shaplen Productions

More than four decades of experience as a journalist, producer, reporter, writer and professor of news, corporate production, crisis management.

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