Saturday’s ballistic missile false alarm glaringly pointed out one thing: The state’s North Korea nuclear preparedness plan, unfortunately, is still very much a work in progress.
Vern Miyagi, administrator for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said Friday at a military conference that the first phase is public education focusing on the possible effects of a nuclear strike.
The second and third phases have to do with post-impact and are “something that we’re working on right now,” Miyagi said.
While HI-EMA has issued guidance on what to do during an attack, it hasn’t explained what the plans are in the weeks after an attack when the state could be facing as many as 143,000 dead and 168,000 injured.
The focus so far, at least publicly, has been on education and preparation for the nuclear blast and immediate fallout.
“A lot of you guys are younger than I am, but I still remember duck and cover,” Miyagi said. “However, my kids, my grandkids, have no clue of what is involved here, so that’s what the purpose (is) of the first phase — to educate our people.”
The state is using a 150-kiloton nuclear detonation in its planning. By comparison, the bomb dropped on Hiroshima was about 15 kilotons.
Miyagi said the follow-on stages will involve “damage assessment, finding out where it hit, what the level of yield was, where the hazardous zones are” and coordinating federal and state responders.
Following Saturday’s error, HI-EMA said on its website that it had “suspended all future drills” until it has “completed a full analysis of the event.”
But agency spokesman Richard Rapoza said Tuesday the preparedness effort isn’t going away.
Multiple investigations into what happened will be ongoing, but “we’re hoping that within a week or so we’ll be back to a point where we can continue planning,” Rapoza said.
On Tuesday HI-EMA was still booking community meetings to talk to different groups about how to prepare for nuclear attack, he said. A “nuclear threat guide” with preparedness information is close to being finalized.
Miyagi on Friday addressed fundamental points about what he referred to as ongoing misconceptions.
One is that an attack is out of the question.
“It could happen,” he said. “We need to plan for it.”
The second misconception is, “We’re all going to die,” Miyagi said. That’s not true, he said. “We’re looking at, now, 10 percent casualties, 20 percent casualties. However, we still have 90 percent, 80 percent survivors, so what are we going to tell them? We stopped preparing because you guys were all supposed to die?”
When people say “you are wasting your time — that’s baloney,” Miyagi said. “We’ve got to take care of the survivors and the casualties.”
A nuclear strike modeling site put together by Alex Wellerstein, an assistant professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey who studies nuclear weapons, predicts 142,600 fatalities and 167,700 injuries from a 150-kiloton airburst over downtown Honolulu.
In his model the level of radiation within half a mile of the blast would cause a 50 to 90 percent mortality rate from acute effects without medical treatment. An over-pressure air blast in which most residential buildings collapse would extend in a 2.3-mile radius. And third-degree thermal radiation burns would cover a 3.27-mile radius.
HI-EMA said surviving the immediate effects requires sheltering immediately in resistant structures.
“Again, we want people to understand there’s a very, very, very small likelihood” of a North Korean attack on Hawaii, Rapoza said. “In fact, one of the reasons so many of us here thought it was a false alarm on Saturday was because we monitor the situation, and we thought it’s been de-escalating. North and South Korea are talking. They are meeting. North Korea is going to participate in the Olympics.”
Hawaii is the only state with a ballistic missile attack warning siren, Rapoza said.
John Barnum, mass communications program chairman at Hawaii Pacific University and a public relations practitioner at the local, national and international level for over 20 years, said a fine line has to be walked between prudent planning for a North Korean nuclear strike and causing fear and panic.
“I think internally to the civil defense and the National Guard and the whole area here, it’s probably a really good thing, but when you start doing the sirens and all, I think you raise the awareness well beyond the threat and I think you raise the anxiety of your population maybe a little bit early,” Barnum said.
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