Panic ensued when a message was sent to every phone, television and radio in Hawaii at 8:07 a.m. Jan. 13.
“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
Few people knew what to do.
Thirty-eight minutes passed before another alert was issued, notifying the public it was a false alarm.
An employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency had mistaken a drill for a real threat, and he sent to the public a message that wasn’t true.
Sgt. Shena Kohler, deputy director of Rock County Emergency Management, said the mistake raised questions for emergency management officials nationwide.
“How do we alert the public? How simple is that system for alerting the public? Those are things that we have to look at locally, at the state and nationally,” Kohler said.
Brian Satula, administrator of Wisconsin Emergency Management, said he was not surprised Hawaii was testing alerts for a nuclear attack given the state’s proximity to North Korea, which has been rattling its nuclear saber.
But he was surprised only one person was tending the emergency alert system, and he was surprised the message made its way to the public.
“Based on what happened in Hawaii, I can tell you, it isn’t going to happen that way (in Wisconsin),” Satula said.
Satula occupies a tidy office inside Wisconsin’s Department of Military Affairs building in Madison. A UW-Madison poster hangs on a white wall, and he sips from a red Badgers mug.
“We had procedures in place long before the event (in Hawaii) happened,” Satula said. “To have a one-button push to send the alert, that wouldn’t happen here. There are several steps that go into the process.”
Gov. Scott Walker appointed Satula as administrator of the state’s emergency management in 2011, the same year IPAWS—Integrated Public Alert and Warning System—rolled out to Wisconsin.
The integrated warning system was birthed in response to Hurricane Katrina, and it’s the state’s primary emergency notification system.
The system can send alerts simultaneously to cellphones, television networks, radio stations, weather radios and local and national agencies.
At all times, two officers—a duty officer and a senior duty officer—are on call to receive emergency alerts from local emergency management officials or state or national agencies.
How the officers issue and respond to an alert would depend on the emergency.
If the emergency is severe enough or if local emergency management isn’t able to send its own notification, the state would issue an alert through IPAWS.
Depending on the emergency, the state would determine which platforms and agencies to include in the alert.
Through electronic mapping, the state would pick which areas to alert.
“We can target a county,” Satula said. “We set a boundary for where (the alert) is going because we never know who’s passing through the area. So if the disaster is in that area, even people that don’t live in the state of Wisconsin will get the message.”
In Wisconsin, each alert message is written in the moment to reflect the specific emergency. The state does not use template alerts in the integrated warning system.
Lori Getter, the state’s emergency management crisis communications director, said once information is gathered about an emergency, the duty officers decide the best response. If an IPAWS alert is needed, she said, the message can be typed quickly.
If the situation is dire, the duty officers could turn for direction to emergency management regional directors; to Satula; to the state’s adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Donald Dunbar; or to the governor.
“All of that can be done fairly quickly when decisions need to be made for relief,” Getter said.
IPAWS shows several confirmation messages while an alert is being written. Satula said the system asks if the duty officers are certain they want to send the alert. similar to deleting a file on a computer.
The verification happens a “couple of times before you actually send the alert out,” Satula said. The duty officers “all know the system, and they know the software. They’re able to do it relatively quick.”
In the event of a nuclear attack, the U.S. Department of Defense would notify the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The Federal Emergency Management Agency would then alert the state, and the duty officers would issue an alert through IPAWS.
IPAWS is used only for the most severe emergencies. In most cases, the state leaves local emergency officials in charge of notifying the public.
“All disasters are local,” Satula said. “Our job here is to prepare everybody for that bad day, support them when they need it and to coordinate activities that they’re asking for. The locals are still in command of the incidents.”
The Rock County Sheriff’s Office uses a software called Nixle to send emergency alerts. Nixle sends emergency alerts through text messages, emails, voice messages and social media but only to those who have subscribed. Like the state, Rock County officials write Nixle alerts in the moment and include pertinent information specific to the emergency.
But during an emergency situation, alerts aren’t the be all and end all, Kohler said.
“People need instruction just as much as they need an alert,” she said.
Barren fallout shelters sit vacant below buildings throughout Janesville.
Underneath Arrow Park, an old fallout shelter has become commercial storage.
A faded fallout shelter sign is still affixed to the exterior of the vacant Monterey Hotel in downtown Janesville.
Kohler said thinking has changed since 1961, when fallout shelters were first commissioned by the now defunct Office of Civil Defense and when school children practiced how to “duck and cover” under their desks.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union posed the greatest nuclear threat. Now, states such as Hawaii practice for attacks from North Korea, which claims to have missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons as far as Chicago.
Kohler said there’s no need to maintain fallout shelters when people can mostly avoid radiation from a nuclear attack in their own homes.
“The response to a nuclear threat would be the same concept—getting low, getting inside,” Kohler said. “To send a population to a shelter in the midst of an attack wouldn’t be appropriate when they can shelter in place.”
Jim Cobb is a disaster readiness consultant and author in Delavan. He runs a website called Survival Weekly, and he has published books entitled “Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide” and “Prepper’s Home Defense.”
He said people should be prepared for emergencies, including a nuclear attack.
“One of the first things you want to do ahead of time: Make sure you have food and water set aside,” Cobb said. “It just needs to be shelf-stable. For water, a minimum of one gallon per person per day. The whole premise is, you’re going to have to meet all of your own needs for a certain period of time.”
State officials echoed Cobb, and Getter said people should “absolutely” be prepared for an emergency in their homes and in their vehicles.
“It could be anything,” Getter said. “Example: There could be a truck carrying chemicals, and it becomes a big chemical release, and people are told to stay inside. Do you have food? Do you have flashlights? Do you have potable water?”
Getter said an emergency could be a blizzard or a power outage. No matter the disaster, she said, it’s important to have supplies ready and an evacuation procedure coordinated.
During a nuclear attack, Cobb said, the preparation would be less complex than one might think.
“I have a basement,” Cobb said. “That’s all you really need. You don’t need a special shelter or anything. When it comes to radiation, mass is your friend.”
While Kohler said emergency management officers don’t prepare specifically for a nuclear attack, the preparations for any emergency are universal.
“We focus on everything, and that’s our responsibility,” Kohler said. “There are things we can do as a community to address preparing for any disaster, whatever it may be. You do the best you can. We prepare for as much (as we can), and we have to be adaptable.”
Getter said Ready Wisconsin has an emergency kit suggestion on its website, readywisconsin.wi.gov, and those suggestions apply to the most common emergencies facing Wisconsinites. Some of the items listed are two rolls of duct tape, scissors, toilet supplies, medications, a battery operated radio and towels.
“Think of items that you really would need,” Getter said. “That you won’t be able to run to the store for. It’s a good idea to just have those items just in case. Have them in a plastic container so you have it handy.”
As for communicating emergencies to the public, Satula is confident in IPAWS. Training occurs frequently, and officers send test messages to FEMA several times a month.
If an alert goes out to cellphones, television and radio, as one did in Hawaii on Jan. 13, officials say the alert should be taken seriously.
Wes Davis yearned for spring in mid-February and wondered where the red-wings were.
The Janesville man checked the open field near his north-side Janesville home, but the blackbirds had not yet arrived.
For almost 40 years, Davis has anticipated their return on or about Feb. 15.
He finally saw the familiar songbirds dressed in glossy black feathers with red and yellow shoulder badges on Feb. 22.
“I was starting to get worried,” Davis said. “I was disappointed when they didn’t come early.”
Davis is a learned man with three college degrees. But watching for red-winged blackbirds is not a scientific pursuit.
Like so many winter-weary people, he finds solace in the birds because they signal the beginning of the end.
We might shovel more snow and shiver in our boots.
But once the red-wings are here, the march toward spring becomes a mighty gallop.
Soon, the males will sing their clamorous “conk-la-ree!” from high perches. They will bend forward, droop their wings, spread their tail feathers and fluff their bright shoulder patches.
Showing off their good looks, they will impress the females and try to keep as many as 15 mates happy.
Davis keeps a bevy of bird feeders in his yard, hoping to attract, as he says, “deep-woods denizens.”
“I should not have to travel to see birds,” he said. “They should travel to see me.”
He always has been a nature-loving guy. As a boy growing up on the edge of Edgerton, he often went fishing in Saunders Creek.
His friend kept a pet crow, and the bird sometimes rode on the handlebars of Davis’ bike.
Once, Davis found the crow’s stash in an oak tree. The smart bird had stowed away a small army of plastic toy soldiers, a $5 bill and a $1 bill, perhaps thinking they were things to eat.
As an adult, Davis taught for 36 years at Beloit Memorial High School. He carpooled with fellow teachers from Janesville each day and watched fence lines in late winter for bird or animal sightings.
Always, the first red-wing stirred in him the promise of spring.
In all, Davis has taught 47 years in local schools on a variety of subjects, including geography and earth and space science.
He currently teaches in the Janesville School District’s homebound program for students with medical conditions or behavioral challenges. He also serves on the Rock County Board and four of its committees.
Davis said he doesn’t have a lot of time to be outdoors.
Still, he looks forward to spring’s avalanche of “firsts.”
As of early last week, the first robins, killdeers and sandhill cranes were back in Rock County. Swans, resting during their long migration north, even paddled in a flooded farm field.
They are only the start.
Eventually, the first lowland chorus of frogs will begin slowly and build to a rousing crescendo. Then, the first buttery glare of a marsh marigold will bloom in the drab rubble of a spring creek. Later, the first warm softness will fill the air. Not just the teasing of a winter thaw, but a building thunder, until one day tree buds will swell and burst.
For those of us who spend long winters in Wisconsin, spring is a highly anticipated season.
Naturalist and writer Sigurd Olson said it best:
“To anyone who has spent a winter in the north and known the depths to which the snow can reach, known the weeks when the mercury stays below zero, the first hint of spring is a major event. You must live in the north to understand it. You cannot just come up for it as you might go to Florida for the sunshine and the surf. To appreciate it, you must wait for it a long time, hope and dream about it, and go through considerable enduring.”
Davis predicts winter will still get in a few good licks.
But from now on, each week will bring remarkable changes to our tiny corner of the planet.
In turn, each change will be an affirmation of new life and a reason for joy and wonder.
Anna Marie Lux is a Sunday columnist for The Gazette. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Republicans in Congress have learned to ignore President Donald Trump’s policy whims, knowing whatever he says one day on guns, immigration or other complicated issues could very well change by the next.
But Trump’s decision to seek steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports has provoked rarely seen urgency among Republicans, now scrambling to convince the president that he would spark a trade war that could stall the economy’s recent gains if he doesn’t reverse course.
The issue pits Trump’s populist promises to his voters against the party’s free trade orthodoxy and the interests of business leaders. Unlike recent immigration and gun policy changes that require legislation, Trump can alter trade policy by executive action. That intensifies the pressure on Republican lawmakers to change his mind before he gives his final approval for the penalties as early as this coming week.
Trump on Saturday showed no sign of backing away, threatening on Twitter to impose a tax on cars made in Europe if the European Union responds to the tariffs by taxing American goods. He also railed about “very stupid” trade deals by earlier administrations and said other countries “laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called Trump after the president’s surprise announcement and continues to hope the White House will reconsider the decision. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and others have offered the president their own private counsel. Some are appealing to his desire for a robust stock market and warning that the trade penalties could unravel some of the gains they attribute to the tax bill he signed last year.
Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, tried one of the most direct lines that lawmakers have to the White House: talking to Trump through cable TV news.
“The president has not yet issued these tariffs,” Brady told Fox News on Thursday, hours after Trump announced the tariff targets. “He’s been continuing to listen.”
Listening to various viewpoints, though, has never been the gripe against Trump.
Unlike President Barack Obama, who often irked lawmakers for lecturing them during meetings, Trump retains a level of popularity among Capitol Hill Republicans in part because he’s more than happy to invite lawmakers in and hear them out.
But problems have arisen when members of the legislative branch leave the White House under the impression Trump was on their side—or at least willing to consider their views—only to find out later that his support drifted away.
The dynamic played out repeatedly during last year’s health care debate over replacing the Affordable Care Act. This past week, Trump publicly belittled a modest gun background check bill from the second-ranking GOP Senate leader, John Cornyn of Texas, during a televised White House meeting. Democrats appeared giddy with the president’s praise of gun control proposals, while Republicans fumed.
“I love the president, but people disagree sometimes,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La.
True to form, Trump’s flirtations with gun control showed signs of subsiding by week’s end. A day after his meeting with lawmakers, the president tweeted that he had a “Good (Great!) meeting” in the Oval Office with the National Rifle Association. The gun lobby’s executive director also tweeted afterward that Trump and Vice President Mike Pence “don’t want gun control.”
It’s unclear what gun control measures, if any, Trump might endorse. But his back-and-forth on the matter was reminiscent of his waffling on immigration this year.
Earlier this year, with a government shutdown looming, Trump welcomed lawmakers for a meeting at the White House to discuss immigration law changes. During the televised session, he told them he would take the political “heat” and sign into law whatever Congress could agree to pass.
Two days later, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., dashed to the White House to present their bipartisan agreement. But the session ended in heated exchanges after Trump rejected the bill and used crude language to question why the U.S. would want to welcome immigrants from Africa and some other nations.
“Let’s talk about two Trumps—the Tuesday Trump and the Thursday Trump,” Graham said later during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. “Tuesday we had a president that I was proud to golf with, call my friend.”
“I don’t know where that guy went. I want him back,” Graham said.
Republicans, who hold a majority in the House and Senate, have largely learned to take these setbacks in stride. They all but shrug off the president’s policy pivots, just as Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., often decline to comment on the Trump tweet of the day.
Local • 2A-3A
Expo aims to help parents
Only a handful of parents made it to the first two hours of the #EveryParentExpo Saturday morning at Blackhawk Technical College, but those who did said they learned more about the dangers teenagers face today. Presented by Janesville Mobilizing 4 Change for the first time, the three-hour exposition featured about 15 booths that provided various tips to parents on maintaining safer households and recognizing the early signs of drug and alcohol use in teenagers.
Court: Company has liability
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled a landscaping company is not immune from liability in the 2012 death of a woman who was struck and killed by a falling tree branch while walking around Geneva Lake. Walworth County Judge Phil Koss ruled in 2015 that a company’s liability in thr case fell under the state’s recreational immunity statute.
nation/world • 9B-10B
Case has national importance
A Republican legislator from Kansas will have to prove his state has a problem with voter fraud if he’s to win a legal challenge to voter registration requirements that he has championed. The case heads to trial Tuesday and has national implications for voting rights as Republicans pursue laws they say are aimed at preventing voter fraud but that critics contend disenfranchise minorities and college students who tend to vote Democratic and who may not have such documentation readily available.