When I got an email from a friend earlier today, I had high hopes. The message, forwarded multiple times by people I’d never heard of, warned of a potentially frightening emergency alert scheduled for 2:00 p.m. This was the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System involving bout twelve different federal agencies and would appear on all media outlets and was historically significant blah blah blah. What was important to me was the warning that “[t]he test message on TV might not indicate that it is just a test.  Fear is that the lack of an explanation regarding the message might create panic.”notice of the test of the Nationwide Emergency Alert System

A good citizen would have passed this warning message along to her email contacts as others had done for me.

I did not.

Instead I considered starting online rumors of an impending major disaster so that when the emergency alert kicked on, we’d have a full scale mass panic on our hands like that caused by the infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast.

For those not familiar with that legendary bit of mania, the panic was touched off by a 1938 radio broadcast dramatizing H.G. Wells’s novel War of the Worlds. When radio listeners heard accounts of alien attacks, some apparently thought they were hearing actual news broadcasts of a real alien invasion. Mass panic ensued.

It sounded like a lot of fun and I thought it would be cool if we could recreate that mass hysteria over nothing. But I had trouble deciding what threat would be most likely to send people into a panic these days.

An alien invasion wouldn’t do it. Half the population doesn’t believe in UFOs and the other half would probably welcome the invaders with open arms.

In this year of unexpected earthquakes and devastating tornadoes, a natural disaster might instill the requisite panic, but it would be difficult to sustain on a national scale. It’s a big nation.

So what would set off a big national panic today? As I noted in my earlier blog about facing your fears, an invasion of giant or even moderately large spiders would do it for me. But I’m not everyone.

What do most people consider the greatest threat to security? Military invasion? A deadly virus? The impact of a giant asteroid hitting the planet? Another Kardashian wedding?

When the opportunity comes again, I want to be ready to set off a national panic and to do that, I need your help. What threat do you think would send the greatest number of people into a panic?

Yes, I’m being a bit silly, but I am genuinely curious. I think most Americans have not faced any real dangers in their lives (as opposed to people in other countries where suicide bombings and warlords with personal armies are commonplace) and I think it wouldn’t take much to make us panic. What do you think?

And by the way, I did happen to have the radio on when the historically significant alert was broadcast. I could barely hear it. When I turned up the volume, the message sounded exactly the same as every other “test of the blah blah blah system.” Very anticlimactic. The only fright came when the regular broadcast resumed at a volume level loud enough to split my eardrums.

As I said, War of the Worlds it was not.