Public Safety & Homeland Security

N. Korean Missile Test Raises Stakes for Hawaii

Governor describes the situation as the 'new normal.'

by William Cole, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / November 29, 2017

(TNS) - North Korea’s test launch Tuesday of what could be its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile yet seems to add further justification to the state planning for what officials are still calling the “extremely unlikely” possibility of a strike on Hawaii.

News of the missile launch coincided with a news conference Tuesday that included the governor, state adjutant general, two Hawaii mayors and representatives of other islands, and state emergency officials to discuss the startup of an “attack warning” siren test Friday and other North Korea preparedness steps being taken.

Gov. David Ige said he’s not aware of any other state conducting such siren tests. Hawaii is one of the first states to comprehensively plan for a North Korean attack.

The community needs to understand this “will become the new normal as we proceed forward,” Ige said, adding, “We believe that it is imperative that we be prepared for every disaster, and in today’s world that includes a nuclear attack.”

Maj. Gen. Arthur “Joe” Logan, state adjutant general, said one of the challenges for emergency managers is, “we have to figure out and think about the unthinkable — think about the things that are the worst-case scenarios that may happen throughout the state — and do the planning.”

And a nuclear attack by a “rogue nation” such as North Korea is one of those scenarios.

“So we have to balance that ability to plan for that, inform the public and make sure that we keep it all in perspective,” said Logan, adding that a nuclear attack on Hawaii is “extremely unlikely.”

Logan said he’ll be on a teleconference call today with homeland security advisers across the country, “and I will be covering what we’re doing for North Korea preparedness, and I’m sure the other states will come back to me and let me know where there are (with planning).”

The news conference was held at Hawaii Emergency Management Agency offices at Diamond Head. The contrast of hearing what is essentially a Cold War-era air raid siren in the tourist land of sun and fun, meanwhile, was enough that CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times all published news stories about it over the past few days.

Within range

The Defense Department said it tracked a North Korean ICBM launched at about 8:17 a.m. Hawaii time Tuesday that splashed down in the Sea of Japan within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

David Wright, a physicist and co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program, said on a blog that if flown on a flatter trajectory rather than the high “lofted” angle as believed, flying for 54 minutes, the missile would have a range of more than 8,100 miles.

“This is significantly longer than North Korea’s previous long-range tests,” Wright said. Such a missile would have “more than enough range” to reach any part of the U.S. mainland, he said. Given the increased range demonstrated, it might have carried a very light mock warhead, he added.

Hawaii, 4,660 miles from North Korea, is a much closer potential target than the mainland.

At 11:45 a.m. Friday, during the regular monthly siren test, 50 seconds of the usual steady-tone alert for hurricanes or tsunamis will be followed by 50 seconds of the wavering attack warning tone, Hawaii Emergency Management said.

The last time Hawaii residents heard the attack warning siren test is not entirely clear, with estimates between about 1980 and 1990 during the Cold War.

A North Korean missile would arrive in just 20 minutes. U.S. Pacific Command would notify Hawaii Emergency Management, which would activate the attack warning siren, giving Hawaii’s population little time to seek shelter in as substantial a structure as possible.

Plan ahead

Hawaii Emergency Management Administrator Vern Miyagi said the basic guidance if the attack warning goes off — and it’s not a test — is to “get inside, stay inside and stay tuned,” adding, “Now, it sounds simple, but when you have such short (amount) of time, about 12 minutes after we get the notification … that is all you can do.”

Miyagi advised to plan ahead and “get an idea of where that shelter-in-place is at that time. And same for your family.”

For planning purposes, the state is theorizing a 150-kiloton-yield bomb detonated over Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, which it said would cause nearly 18,000 fatalities and 50,000 to 120,000 trauma and burn casualties. But such a blast would be survivable by the vast majority of Hawaii’s more than 1.4 million residents, officials say.

Miyagi believes it’s unlikely Hawaii would be targeted, with Japan and South Korea being easier targets for North Korea.

“The chances are so, so, so slim” that an attack on Hawaii would ever occur, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said. He added that Hawaii may be the most prepared state in the nation for a range of threats including hurricanes and tsunamis “because I don’t know how many other places around the country test their sirens every single month.”

“This is just one more step in preparation,” Caldwell said. “But I want to remind everyone that on this island we remain one of the safest big cities in the United States of America for the residents here (and) for the visitors who come here. And we want people to continue to celebrate life here.”

Angelo Di Benedetto, visiting from Australia and taking in the sea view from Diamond Head Road on Tuesday, said the latest North Korean ballistic missile test is a “great concern.”

“Their missile range is — it’s a serious range and obviously (of concern to) the people in Hawaii as well as the northern part of Australia,” Di Benedetto, 53, said.

The Hawaii planning “is a great thing because ultimately there’s no substitute for being ready and being prepared. So if you are able to do that, great,” he said.

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