Parents of Hawaii public school students have been told not to pick up their children at school during a missile attack.
Students returned to public schools on Tuesday after Saturday’s false alert sent by the state informed residents to seek immediate shelter from an inbound missile.
Students were given a letter for their parents from state Department of Education superintendent Christina Kishimoto, stating the plan is to have students “shelter-in-place” during a missile threat.
When there is a shelter-in-place situation, parents and guardians are advised to do so as well, Kishimoto said, and avoid picking up children at school.
“While it is extremely difficult to adhere to this advisement,” she said, “please know that this is in the best interest of your children.”
That advice met with mixed reaction from parents.
“If my son is five minutes away, I’m going to do everything in my power to get the family together, wherever we are, whichever is the quickest and most efficient way to do that,” said Vanessa Perez of Kailua. “I think every family would do what they can to bring their family together.”
The state Emergency Management Agency has said Hawaii residents may have as little as 12 minutes warning before an incoming missile hits.
That could make reaching your children at school a challenge.
Perez works as a professional recruiter in downtown Honolulu during the week while her son is at school in Kailua. Still getting to her son would be her top priority. If possible, she said being able to take shelter in the school with her son would be ideal.
That became clear to her during the false missile alert on Saturday.
“I was happy we were together as a family,” she said. “We’ll do what we can to protect our kids, against whatever odds there may be.”
After the false missile alert, Jennifer Pang, mother of two boys, ages 7 and 10, spent the weekend researching nuclear attacks.
She has played out the scenario in her head, and is prepared to leave them at school in Manoa if necessary.
During the week, she might be meeting with clients in town or working from home, just a few minutes drive away from school. It would be tough, she said, especially if she were so close, but it also would take at least 24 hours for the radiation to dissipate significantly.
“It would depend on where it hit, which way the winds were blowing,” she said. “From all the research I did, it is the smartest thing, in my opinion.”
At home, Pang began preparing for such a possibility over the summer with all the rhetoric about nuclear war. She is well-equipped, with water, iodine tabs, freeze-dried food, a battery operated radio, even a copy of “Nuclear War Survival Skills.”
She does, however, want to know exactly where the school would shelter her sons in case of a missile alert.
Rep. Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley), meanwhile, does not think the state education department is adequately prepared.
Ward introduced H.B. 1728, which passed first reading Wednesday, requiring each public school to develop a disaster and attack preparedness plan as well as appropriate funds sufficient for at least 48 hours of food, water and emergency goods at its facilities.
The bill specifies that shelter-in-place drills be held at least twice annually, along with procedures for maintaining communication with county, state and federal emergency response agencies. He wants schools to have the plans in place by Sept. 1.
“They are not prepared,” said Ward. “They have never done anything in 13 minutes. … They’re dragging their feet.”
State DOE spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said all public schools already have disaster preparedness plans that include shelter-in-place drills. Schools are required to perform five types of drills at least once annually, she said, covering earthquake, evacuation, lockdown, tsunami and shelter-in-place scenarios.
The drills, however, cover multiple possible emergency scenarios and are not done specifically for one situation such as a possible nuclear missile attack. She said they cover scenarios including chemical, biological and radiological contaminant releases, which may include gas leaks, toxic fumes or noxious odors.
When asked whether all Hawaii school campuses had a concrete building in which to shelter students and staff, she said sheltering in place would not necessarily be in a single location, such as a gym or cafeteria.
“Shelter-in-place will have the majority of students shelter immediately inside their classrooms or the nearest accessible safe location,” she said.
The state also stands by its advice that parents shelter in place and not attempt to drive to schools, given the short warning time in a missile alert.
“In a shelter-in-place scenario, teachers are instructed to secure their locations, locking doors and windows, and wait for an all-clear message for the safety of the students,” she said in an email. “Attempting to enter locked classrooms where students are sheltered will put all the students within at greater risk.”
The state education department continues to work with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency for guidance, she said.
If a statewide emergency were to occur on a weekday, the state education department will post information on its website, hawaiipublicschools.org or its Twitter and Facebook accounts @HIDOE808.
Although Saturday’s alert turned out to be a false alarm, Ward said the threat of attack, particularly from North Korea, is real.
“We cannot let our guard down,” Ward said. “[North Korea leader] Kim Jong Un is continuing to develop long-range missiles and I firmly believe he will not hesitate to use them. We must have plans in place should that day come.”
letter to parents by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd
>> For the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s full coverage of Hawaii’s missile alert scare, go to 808ne.ws/Hawaiimissilescare.