My brother was in Hawaii, and this is what it felt like: "A full blast 10 on the scary scale. Somehow, some way, we were expecting life would change, and we were hoping to survive."
Wristen knew something wasn’t right when he felt the phone in his pocket buzz three times in an odd pattern. My older brother and his family had just left their hotel and were walking in the sun, down the beach on Maui for a family photo near the waves. He read the message twice, but still couldn’t believe it. He looked up to see his sister-in-law looking down at the same alert on her phone. By the time he glanced back towards the hotel, other people on the beach had already started to run.
Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency had issued a false alarm. The root cause is not exactly surprising: bad software and a bad shift-change-and-test procedure. Thankfully, there are a few lessons for us from this massive mistake.
“I’d rather it be there, than not.”
Japan dedicated itself to emergency preparedness after 1923, when 140,000 people died during a 7.9 magnitude earthquake and the subsequent and widespread fires that ripped across the country. The planning paid off. In 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake hit Japan, followed by a 10-story tall tsunami wave that crashed upwards of six miles inland.
When the emergency preparedness protocol kicked into gear, TV and radio alerts were issued, cell phones buzzed with warnings, and high speed trains stopped in their tracks. And the added time allowed nearly all 3,000 schoolchildren in the coastal town of Kamaishi to outrace the tsunami, in an escape that’s now known as the “miracle of Kamaishi.”
What is your building’s active shooter protocol?
Despite the horrific experience in Hawaii, one of the first things my brother told me was that it did feel a little bit better that the alert system was in place. “Thankfully, it seemed like we had a chance to respond, to find shelter.” Wristen’s hotel had a tsunami plan, which included a reinforced shelter stocked with supplies. By the time his family were in off the beach, hotel staff were already directing guests down into the basement.
The San Francisco BOMA Chapter, in partnership with the San Francisco Police Department, summarizes their active shooter recommendations here. Tips include shelter in place, report to police with L.A.N.D.D (location, activity, number of suspects, description of suspects, and dangers), and R.A.I.N (recognize, avoid, isolate, and notify). The first police units in your building will have a very clear first objective, to locate and stop the shooter. These first units will not stop for casualties.
“Much of life’s stress now feels insignificant.”
Japan isn’t the only country to get serious about emergency protocols. France got prepared after a tragic heatwave struck in 2003 and killed around 15,000 people there. When another heatwave swept across the country in August 2016, the government initiated its National Heat Wave Plan. Text message warnings were sent, including to english-speaking tourists down range, the Red Cross was deployed, health care facilities were put on alert, and postal workers with the daily mail checked in on the elderly and infirm. Street parking fees were waived and public bus rides were discouraged. No casualties were reported this time.
Thankfully, the effects from the event in Hawaii this past weekend were similarly benign.
Wristen tells me news of the false alert was “the hugest wave of relief, my whole body relaxed, it’s hard to describe.” 40 minutes had felt like forever. And when he embraced his wife and daughter and as they ascended out of the basement, he could tell life had changed. Others on Maui were feeling it, too.
My brother had taken to stopping at a local grocery market on his bike rides around the island, and he was in the store later that afternoon. As locals were chatting at the bar, Wristen noticed the long embraces between employees during their shift change. It was a small shop, but there was big sense of community in the air.