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North Korean missile launch raises stakes for Hawaii defense planning

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    An attack warning siren that would sound in the event of a North Korean nuclear missile strike is seen near the corner of Kahala Avenue and Paikau Street. The 50-second wavering attack warning tone will sound for the first time in decades during the regular monthly hurricane or tsunami warning siren test at 11:45 a.m. Friday.


    State Hawaii Emergency Management Agency held a press conference today at the agency’s Diamond Head office about the upcoming “attack warning” siren test on Friday in case of a North Korean attack. Those in attendance included Hawaii island Managing Director Wil Okabe, Maui Managing Director Keith Regan, Gov. David Ige, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Maj. Gen. Arthur J. Logan and Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern T. Miyagi. In the foreground is Tech. Sgt. Andrew Jackson.

North Korea’s launch today of what could be its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile test yet seems to add further justification to 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 this morning 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. We believe that it is imperative that we be prepared for every disaster, and in today’s world, that includes a nuclear attack,” Ige said.

State adjutant Maj. Gen. Arthur “Joe” Logan 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 Wednesday 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),” Logan said.

The news conference was held at Hawaii Emergency Management Agency offices at Diamond Head. The return of what is essentially a World War II-era air raid siren to Hawaii, meanwhile, is so jarring that CNN, the Washington Post and New York Times all published news stories about it today and Monday.

The Defense Department said it tracked a North Korea ICBM launch at about 8:17 a.m. Hawaii time that traveled about 620 miles before splashing 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 standard trajectory rather than the high “lofted” trajectory as believed, 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.

Hawaii, at a distance of 4,660 miles from North Korea, is much closer.

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.

Agency Executive Officer Toby Clairmont previously said the last time Hawaii residents heard the attack warning siren test was around 1980 during the Cold War.

A North Korean missile would arrive in 20 minutes. U.S. Pacific Command would notify Hawaii Emergency Management, which would activate the attack warning siren, giving Hawaii’s population between 12 and 15 minutes to seek shelter in as substantial of a structure as possible with such short warning.

“The chances are so, so, so slim that this will ever occur,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said, adding 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 that come here. And we want people to continue to celebrate life here.”

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