North Korea has just launched missiles at the West Coast. Kim Jong-un couldn't decide whether to take out San Francisco, Los Angeles or Las Vegas so it looks like he split the difference and aimed somewhere in the middle. At us.
What happens now? Things won't end well for Kim, but unless Vandenberg has a sufficient number of ground-based interceptors locked and loaded, it won't end well for us either.
So, what do we do? I had to wonder after seeing that Dr. Strangelove scenario play out Jan. 13 in Hawaii, where an emergency worker — who was fired Tuesday — sent out a false ballistic missile alert and the state's entire ambulatory population scrambled for cover.
I could think of no one more capable of easing my mind than Georgiana Armstrong, the Kern County director of Emergency Services. Well, guess what.
If a devastating earthquake should hit Kern County, Georgiana and her associates have a plan for it. If the Isabella Dam should fracture and Bakersfield goes waist-deep (or worse) in water, Georgiana and her associates have a plan for it. A massive fire? Hazmat emergency? Check, check.
But a nuclear strike? That's a tough one.
State officials are wrestling with that very question: They're in the midst of developing a plan and a protocol. I'm guessing it does not involve dropping on the floor and rolling under your desk.
"When I was little, you had sirens, and sirens meant only one thing," Armstrong said, remembering the A-bomb scares of the early 1960s. "Now people would just go outside and say, 'What is that siren for?' It's just a different time."
The false alert in Hawaii went out because the still-unnamed emergency worker believed there really was a missile threat, according to investigators.
It was not the result of some computer misstep, as originally reported, but rather because the worker misunderstood the drill as a true emergency. Maybe that's because the drill specifically included the words: "This is not a drill."
The worker had missed the first three words of the drill language: "Exercise! Exercise! Exercise!" Good advice for keeping the tummy firm but wholly inadequate when we're playing with nuclear warheads.
"You'd want to say 'this is an exercise' at the beginning and 'this is an exercise' at the end," Armstrong said. "And you would never say 'This is not a drill' when it's a drill."
As bad as the initial gaffe was, it took a full 38 minutes for the Hawaiian emergency agency to notify the public that the alert it sent was false.
The good news is that the Hawaiian fiasco was a bucket of ice water in the face of state emergency agencies across the country, which were prompted to take second looks at their alert protocols.
But what about dealing with actual nuclear emergencies? Real ones.
Armstrong volunteered to call her contacts with the state agency charged with emergency response and report back to me.
The bad news: The state has no such plan.
The good news: The state is working on one.
The bad news: It's a nuclear attack. How effective can it be?
"Apparently we're not the first to ask (the State Office of Emergency Services) this question," Armstrong said. "The state has a catastrophic plan but it's not specific for an act of war."
The act-of-war plan is at this point just a draft and not ready for release. Dealing with incoming nuclear missiles is a federal function, something that would involve the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, but it would require the state's participation.
"What messages we would give have not been identified," Armstrong said. "The plan is still under development."
The U.S. does have the emergency alert system, which is used by the National Weather Service to warn people about tornadoes and other extreme weather. It was designed during the Cold War, Armstrong noted, and could presumably to adapted for real-war purposes.
"But where would you go for cover? Not everyone has a building with 10-inch concrete walls," Armstrong said. "Sending people home would convey a false sense of security."
Yes, truly a dilemma.
So, as we wait for the state to develop a reassuring plan of action, I say we go with this: Hug your kids, pets, and significant others closely and frequently, stay on good terms with the deity of your choice and always wear clean underwear.
Beyond that, be reassured that South Korea and North Korea have announced they're marching together in the Winter Olympics' opening ceremonies next month. Yes, it's just sports, but any sign that the presumed combatants are stepping back from the brink has to be good news.
Robert Price's column appears Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @stubblebuzz. The opinions expressed are his own.