Emergency response officials in Hawaii do not want to be caught flat-footed if North Korea launches a missile attack – and are launching a campaign meant to inform, but not frighten, residents over how to prepare in case the rogue regime does the unthinkable.
“We do not want to cause any undue stress for the public,” Vern T. Miyagi, Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) administrator, said in a statement released ahead of Friday’s expected rollout.
While the threat of a ballistic missile from North Korea is assessed to be low, preparedness plans have been in development since December 2016.
U.S. intelligence officials now believe North Korea is capable of launching a missile 4,000 miles, which is within range of the Hawaiian islands and their 1.4 million residents.
Officials have likened the campaign to “active shooter” preparedness drills conducted in schools nationwide. They will reflect the current times and will not resemble the “duck and cover” drills students endured in the 1950s.
Miyagi tried to temper any panic by saying the government did not want to cause any “undue stress for the public,” but action was warranted since the North Korean nuclear capabilities are unclear.
“Whether it’s hurricane or tsunami, the same thing that we need to get out to the folks is that they need to have a plan,” he said.
The state could begin testing a new emergency siren as early as November. The tests will include the sounding of a normal siren followed by a second siren that would be used in the event of an attack.
The Pentagon needs to consider deploying new anti-ballistic missile systems and a defensive radar to Hawaii to protect against a growing threat from North Korea, the top U.S. military officer in the Pacific told Congress earlier this year.
“Kim Jong Un is clearly in a position to threaten Hawaii today, in my opinion,” Adm. Harry Harris, chief of U.S. Pacific Command, told the House Armed Services Committee on April 26.
Harris added that he was not suggesting “we consider putting interceptors in Hawaii” at the moment. Currently, the U.S. has anti-missile interceptors at two bases in Alaska.
Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes Pyongyang’s July 4 missile test shows they “clearly” have the range but lack the accuracy to hit the United States.
“What the experts tell me is that the North Koreans have yet to demonstrate the capacity to do the guidance and control that would be required,” Selva told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week.
Accurate or not, the progress of their nuclear program has some state lawmakers on edge.
In April, the Hawaii House Public Safety Committee passed a resolution formally asking the state to modernize its disaster preparedness plan, including repairing and restocking fallout shelters.
The state last issued a Community Shelter Plan in 1985.
“We’ve had wake-up calls before but what happened on July 3 is shaking us out of bed," state Rep. Gene Ward told Reuters after the latest missile test.
Ward, a Republican, recently suggested using old military bunkers located beneath Diamond Head Crater as fallout shelters, but HEMA officials dismissed the idea.
State emergency officials have argued against updating shelters since residents would have a limited window to find shelter once a missile had been launched.
“What’s going to happen is you’re going to hear the sirens. You’re going to hear what goes off on the radio and on your smart phone, and you’ve got just a few minutes to protect yourself. There’s no time to be looking at a map or even driving a block. You need to take shelter right now,” Toby Clairmont, executive officer for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, told KHON-2 TV.
He advised most Hawaiians to shelter in place, preferably in a concrete building.