At least we won’t get tripped up like Hawaii
By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer
After the panic and subsequent backlash over Hawaii’s nuclear attack false alarm, many people decided it would be prudent to see if their own countries have something similar. Given that, it’s a touch surprising to learn that Canada has no method of instant warning over a nuclear launch, like texting or phone alarms—it only has the same TV and radio interruptions that served the last couple decades. Only in the past year has the Canadian federal government forced cell providers to allow for instant alarms.
Nuclear war preparedness in Canada has understandably fallen by the wayside since the days of the Cold War that began in the 50s. Canada in particular has relaxed quite a bit in the military department. America, as expected, has not: Incoming missile alarms have been part of standard operating procedures for years, especially in high risk areas such as Hawaii. In fact, the recent Canadian government requirement for such an alarm system is likely only due to increased Russia/America/China/Korea tensions over the past year or two. We just don’t seem to consider ourselves in any sort of great danger, and haven’t for a long time. Even NORAD, the controversial combined American-Canadian aerospace warning system, is focused more on drug trafficking than actual nuclear threats.
The framework for new emergency notifications already exists; in areas near nuclear power plants, texts messages are already a major part of the meltdown warning systems. Establishing something similar around major coastal population centers and military bases for a ballistic missile attack should be relatively easy to do. Given that, it may be a touch surprising that it doesn’t already exist, but if Hawaii is proof that it can work—as Hawaii already has something similar in place. Hawaii is also proof that it can fail. Much of our nuclear program is more manual and less computer-operated than most people suspect.
Hawaii’s system is a dead man’s switch, meaning that the watch station needs to be checked in on three times a day or the alarm automatically goes out. The understandably tight-lipped Emergency Management Agency has only said that an employee had pushed the wrong button during one of the shift changes, immediately triggering the alarm and causing a state-wide panic. The reliance on human operators prevents hacking and remote controlling of nuclear weapon and defense systems, but it opens the door for human error. That seems to be a PR disaster in waiting that the various Canadian governments over the years have felt comfortable avoiding until recently.
More information is likely to emerge over the coming year as the federal government, along with the Canadian militaries, American militaries, and NORAD attempts to build a Canadian instant public warning system. With Vancouver, Victoria, and the Canadian Forces Base in Esquimalt so close to each other, we in BC should hear a lot about it—though hopefully not by accident at eight in the morning.