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Millions Needed to Beef Up Hawaii's Emergency Preparedness, Report Says

The report identified a need for HI-EMA to prepare a strategic plan and update its All Hazards Catastrophic Plan to include chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear scenarios. It recommended including all emergency management stakeholders in future planning and outlined tens of millions of dollars in future capital improvement investments.

(TNS) — Hawaii residents shouldn't expect the state to resume ballistic missile alert testing anytime soon, but the beleaguered Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) is immediately seeking to hire a new leader and procure millions from the state Legislature to shore up its disaster-response capabilities.

A report prepared by Hawaii National Guard Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state's deputy adjutant general, in the aftermath of the Jan. 13 false missile alert identified a need for HI-EMA to prepare a strategic plan and update its All Hazards Catastrophic Plan to include chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear scenarios. It recommended including all emergency management stakeholders in future planning and outlined tens of millions of dollars in future capital improvement investments.

Gov. David Ige signed an executive order requesting Hara's review on Jan. 15, just two days after a state employee in a Diamond Head bunker sent out an alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile that included the words: "This is not a drill."

That event caused some Hawaii residents and tourists to spend up to 38 minutes thinking that a nuclear attack was imminent. It has occupied the focus of state and federal lawmakers and has prompted an investigation by the Federal Communications Commission and an after-action review by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Now, Ige says he'll be asking the Legislature for more than $2 million immediately to build emergency preparedness capacity in response to Hara's report, which was released Tuesday. Ige said he doesn't have a cost estimate for Hara's longer-term recommendations, but he believes his proposed appropriation will accelerate preparedness.

"We are moving forward with a strategic vision that enables emergency managers in Hawaii to identify gaps and vulnerability for handling all hazards," Ige said. "It's all about the safety and security of the people of Hawaii. This is the beginning of a process."

Hara said the agency will begin improvements by issuing a request for proposals for a strategic plan, which at an estimated $800,000 would be part of this year's legislative request. The report also estimates that updating the All Hazards Catastrophic Plan and reviewing the feasibility of re-instituting fallout shelters could cost about $875,000. It allocates about $500,000 for public outreach.

Longer-term expenses discussed in the Hara report include construction of a Joint Emergency Management Center estimated at $135 million, with costs to be determined for the build-out of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency annex. Hara's report said infrastructure upgrades also should be funded for multipurpose shelters, ports and airports, subsistence storage capacity and emergency energy infrastructure.

Lawmakers react

House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke, D-Punchbowl-Pauoa-Nuuanu, said she has not reviewed the report, but understands that the administration will ask lawmakers to fund additional planning for HI-EMA. Luke said she is generally supportive of funding some longer-term infrastructure improvements, but she questioned why HI-EMA did not ask for them sooner or why it needs additional planning money.


A report prepared by Hawaii National Guard Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara suggests ways to improve Hawaii's emergency preparedness, including the development of future programs.

  • Construct Joint Emergency Management Center
Cost estimate: $135 million

  • Improve multipurpose shelters, seaports and airports, subsistence storage capacity, and emergency energy infrastructure
Cost estimate: to be determined.

  • Build out Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Annex
Cost estimate: to be determined.

  • Operationalize Office of Homeland Security
Cost estimate: to be determined.
  • Establish statewide evaluation program
Cost estimate: to be determined.

  • Establish chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear civil defense capability improvement program for counties
Cost estimate: to be determined.
"We just had an investigation, so why do you need to spend another $800,000 to come up with a plan? And I think that's kind of a wrong approach," Luke said.

However, she said she would look "favorably upon" some infrastructure improvements, like computer system enhancements, which she hopes would prevent future failures.

State Sen. Will Espero, D-Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point, said he won't support HI-EMA's funding request until he has more details. He thinks $500,000 is high for a public outreach. He also questions why HI-EMA needs an additional $800,000 for strategic planning, when "that should be part of the agency's normal duties and it could draw on the expertise of the U.S. Pacific Command and the University of Hawaii."

Espero said he also wants greater details about HI-EMA's future wish list, which "would surely be in the tens of millions of dollars or more."

"Public safety and security are expenditures that we must make," Espero said. "But we need to make sure that we are making the right ones."

Rep. Gene Ward, R-Hawaii Kai, said he was disappointed in Hara's report, which mostly just agreed with the findings of a Jan. 30 report released by Brig. Gen. Bruce Oliveira. Ward said Hara's report concentrated on "big macros with lots of money attached" instead of "providing the public with the solid management audit that they crave."

"All we wanted to do was get questions about the warning point system answered, and now they're talking about things like a new port that will cost millions and millions of dollars," Ward said. "I think it's a bit of a misdirection. How can we throw money at something with so many unanswered questions?"

Moving forward

HI-EMA has said it's already addressed many public concerns, but that appropriations are needed to make more progress. Hara said the state won't resume ballistic missile alert testing until the agency hires a new leader and completes a strategic plan. He estimates the "best-case scenario" to resume testing is eight months out from the beginning of strategic planning efforts.

Hara said HI-EMA is moving ahead on its quest to fill the agency's administrator position, left vacant by the Jan. 30 resignation of Maj. Gen. Vern Miyagi. Hara said multiple candidates responded to the job announcement, which closed Friday. Maj. Gen. Arthur "Joe" Logan, state adjutant general, likely will conduct phone interviews this week, he said.

"We'll probably make a selection before the end of the week," Hara said.

Strong leader sought

Hawaii island Mayor Harry Kim said leadership changes will be important to the agency. Kim had objected to the state's plan to roll out ballistic missile alert testing several times from July to November because he didn't think all stakeholders were adequately prepared.

Kim said he agreed with the findings in the 36-page Hara report, although he said he could have completed it in one page.

"It was real simple what happened. We had some management problems that has to be fixed," said Kim, who collaborated on the Hara report.

He said he wants HI-EMA's top leadership spot to go to a "professional planner" and "strong leader."

Kim said he's recommended a retired military leader who lives in Arizona but has ties to Hawaii. He did not name the candidate, but Kim did not deny that retired Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba was his pick when a reporter asked if he would assist Taguba in assembling a local team.

Espero said Taguba, who is known for authoring an internal U.S. Army report on abuse of detainees held at Iraq prisons, has excellent credentials, but that the state must ensure that Taguba or any other candidate knows what he or she has agreed to undertake.

"The candidate will have a major responsibility in overhauling the system," Espero said. "We need to make sure that they really want the job and understand what the task is so that we can make sure that the right person is chosen to lead us out of this situation."

Preparedness Improvement Action Plan and Report
by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd


For the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's full coverage of Hawaii's missile alert scare, go to


Star-Advertiser reporter Kevin Dayton contributed to this story.



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