What would you do if you believed that you had only hours to live?
On Jan. 16, The New York Times published an article titled “In Hawaii, Reacting to a False Alarm of an Attack,” with several letters to the editor from citizens of Hawaii. Their letters represent more than concern — in reading these letters, we read the voices of terror and fear. They used words such as “inexcusable,” “outrage” and “a wake-up call” to describe the false alarm.

Yet, I propose that there is a deeper fear underlying their concerns and admonishment. Edward Lasky of Honolulu wrote to The New York Times, “My wife and I grew up in the days of ‘duck and cover,’ so we’re both perhaps a little jaded when it comes to bomb alerts.”

This “exercise” was not innocuous — it was destructive. For veterans and survivors of violence living in Hawaii, this colossal mistake may have brought them back to traumatic experiences.

For those living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), any reminder of their trauma can be a trigger, releasing unwanted memories in the form of intrusive thoughts, nightmares or flashbacks. The alert sent to smartphones specifically indicated “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Can we accept that human error may have been the catalyst for the suffering of those already vulnerable?

I argue that it is unacceptable. The effects of PTSD are startling, and even for those without this mental illness, the effects of such trauma on Jan. 13, 2018 could have been similar. About 8 percent of the U.S. population suffers from PTSD at any given time and over 108,000 veterans lived in Hawaii from 2012 to 2016 — this is not something that should be taken lightly.

It took authorities 38 minutes to communicate the message that the alert had been no more than a false alarm.Those were 38 minutes of panic, 38 minutes in and out of flashbacks, 38 minutes of last-minute, hushed and sobbing phone calls to say goodbye to families.

In the most extreme of possible scenarios, some may have considered suicide a better way to die with the belief that they had only hours or minutes left. We have lives on the line, and it is our unspoken duty to protect those who are vulnerable instead of targeting their fears.

It is now known that the cause of such a delayed response was an error in a thrice-daily shift-change drill and a flaw in the alert system. In a flood of panic, helplessness and tears, an apology from Gov. David Ige is not enough. Hawaiians may need to learn to trust their government again gradually — and that is to be expected. It takes more than the electronic highway sign with orange-tinted letters glowing that stated, “Missile alert in error: There is no threat.”

Perhaps what is most frightening is that under the current administration of President Donald Trump, this alert seemed like a realistic possibility to many. In his statement directed at Kim Jong Un via Twitter, Trump stated, “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

This man is far from a rhetorical genius, and this error was far more than a technological mistake.

Kara Bilello is a senior double-majoring in English and Spanish.