Worried that if aliens ever made contact with Earth we wouldn't know what to do about it? Us, too, especially since Stephen Hawking has said, "If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans." Good thing we have a plan.
So what DO we do if E.T. comes knocking at our door?
According to Ask the Explainer over at Slate, all the needed protocols are already in place.
The International Academy of Astronautics created a nongovernmental organization, the SETI: Post-Detection Taskgroup, whose mission is to "prepare, reflect on, manage, advise, and consult in preparation for ... a putative signal of extraterrestrial intelligent (ETI) origin." The group, run by theoretical physicist Paul Davies, adopted a set of recommendations back in 1989.
Here's what's supposed to happen:
1. If someone picks up a signal indicating we're not alone, he or she is to get in touch with SETI researchers, who'll make the determination whether the signal is truly from an alien intelligence.
2. Once it's decided that yes, bingo, a message has really been received, the recipient should then notify the International Astronomical Union as well as the United Nations and appropriate scientific organizations.
3. The lucky discoverer would get to make the first public announcement. (And we know how well that always works out from the movies, don't we?)
4. All information would be made freely available to the scientific community, except for the exact source coordinates of the message, however, which would be kept secret, to make sure not just anyone with a radio telescope sends a reply.
5. The next step? Figuring out how to respond, or whether to respond at all. And if we DO answer, what message to send. According to the protocols, this would involve not just scientists, but other experts and government appointees. (Which doesn't necessarily ease our minds.)
Of course, should ships suddenly arrive in our skies as in V, all bets are off. And we'll be hoping that Hawking's nightmare scenario won't follow.
But until then—does this information make you feel more comfortable?