Remembering two nisei fathers who served: While nuclear attack threat considered low, Gov. Ige says ‘better to be prepared’
Governer was on island to visit nisei center, speak at Maui chamber luncheon
WAIKAPU — Gov. David Ige said he’s none too worried about the threat of nuclear attack, but said that as a state, “it’s better to be prepared than not.”
“We believe that the possibility of a nuclear attack is extremely low,” Ige said Thursday before the Maui Chamber of Commerce’s annual governor’s luncheon at the King Kamehameha Golf Club. “We don’t believe that North Korea has the capability to deliver a nuclear weapon to Hawaii. But, we always believe that it’s better to be prepared to talk about what the citizens should do should there be a nuclear attack in the future.”
Ige said that air raid warning siren tests will move forward throughout the islands as planned, though a specific date hasn’t been set. The originally scheduled start date of Nov. 1 was postponed after the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency decided it needed to consult more with the Neighbor Islands before starting the tests.
Hawaii lawmakers have been urging officials to update Cold War-era plans for coping with a nuclear attack, as North Korea leader Kim Jong Un continues to develop ballistic missiles that some fear could reach the islands. However, officials have been treading carefully on the subject, walking a fine line between wanting the public to be prepared and avoiding overhyped fears of a nuclear attack.
On Sept. 19, dozens of state legislators held a closed-door meeting with the state Emergency Management Agency to discuss how to help residents prepare, Civil Beat reported. Officials later held a public meeting and then decided to postpone the siren tests. Agency administrator Vern Miyagi said that “we need to work things out with the counties,” which had concerns over confusion between the warning and air raid sirens, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
Ige said Thursday that the air raid sirens would go along with the monthly warning siren tests, possibly on the same day.
“The focus would be again, for either siren, to really turn on the radio and listen for updates,” Ige said.
Over the last two months, county emergency workers have been meeting with the state agency to increase preparedness for an attack. County emergency officials said that Maui residents should be prepared to remain indoors for 14 days if a North Korea nuclear missile strike hits the state, due to fallout and radiation from the blast.
“There would be mass casualties if there was a direct hit on any of our communities, but you can survive if you’re outside the blast radius,” said Herman Andaya, county chief of staff and acting administrator of the Emergency Management Agency. “That’s the reason we’re telling people to get indoors because if you survive the blast, the next thing you’ll have to survive is the fallout.”
Andaya said an attack would have a 90 percent survivability rate, “so it’s not like it would wipe out an entire community.” However, state agency officials believe it could claim up to 15,000 lives.
Residents would have less than 20 minutes warning once a missile is launched, state officials said.
Andaya said it would only be enough time to run an attack siren and for people to get indoors.
“Once they’re notified of an attack, they should get inside and stay tuned,” he said.
Andaya has been overseeing the county’s emergency agency ever since former head Anna Foust resigned for family reasons at the end of June. Since taking over, Andaya has sought to push the agency’s own emergency notification system, Maka’ala, to aid residents in the event of a nuclear attack or natural disaster. The free alert system has been underutilized since it launched a couple years ago with only 3,000 to 5,000 subscribers.
“That’s a fraction of the population and a lot of it is visitors who are not here anymore,” Andaya said.
Keanu Lau Hee, agency staff specialist, encouraged residents to sign up to the county alert system and store an AM/FM radio in the event of an attack so they can hear any updates while they remain indoors for the two-week period. She said residents should also note the difference between the steady, 3-minute siren during a tsunami and hurricane alert versus the “wailing tone” of an attack siren.
“You do not want to hear that one,” Lau Hee said of the attack siren.
State Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Charles Anthony said the state plans to begin airing public service announcements sometime in October for a month or more before it begins testing the attack siren. The plan is not to confuse residents.
The last time the siren ran was about 30 years ago at the end of the Cold War.
While Honolulu is the obvious and most likely target of a nuclear strike, Anthony cautioned that residents of all of the islands need to be ready. Hawaii’s capital sits about 4,600 miles away from North Korea, and state officials are unclear as to the accuracy of its weapons.
“There’s no indication at this point that North Korea has the capability of hitting anything with pinpoint accuracy,” Anthony said. “We just don’t know if they could target someplace and be off hundreds of miles. It could wind up anywhere.”
To receive emergency notifications from the county’s alert system, Maka’ala, visit member.everbridge.net/index/892807736722768.
For information about assembling an emergency survival kit, visit www.mauicounty.gov/203/Emergency-Survival-Kit.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.