LIHUE — The Hawaii tourism Authority wants to make one thing perfectly clear about Friday’s Attack Warning Signal being introduced by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency:
Travelers should not be alarmed.
“Its implementation is consistent with the state’s longstanding policy to be prepared and informing the public well in advance of any potential threat to Hawaii’s well-being,” said George D. Szigeti, HTA president and CEO, who wanted “to reassure visitors to Hawaii,” according to a press release.
“Travelers can plan and book their trips to the Hawaiian Islands confident that they will be safe and secure throughout their stay,” he said.
But the state is taking steps to be prepared, just as tensions are again heating up with North Korea after it successfully fired a new nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile that some said could reach the Eastern U.S.
Hawaii on Friday is resuming monthly testing of nuclear warning sirens, something that hasn’t happened since the Cold War. Officials said the move was decided months ago when it was reported that North Korea’s missiles could reach Hawaii.
“If the public hears the new attack warning signal outside of scheduled testing periods, they should immediately seek shelter, indoors if possible, stay inside, and stay tuned to local media for updates,” said Elton Ushio, Emergency Management Administrator for KEMA.
Some fear Hawaii could be a target. It’s about 4,600 miles from North Korea and a nuclear missile launched from there could reportedly be here in about 15 minutes.
According to HEMA, current estimates of human causalities based on the size of North Korean nuclear weapon technology strongly suggests and explosion less than 6 miles in diameter.
“More than 90 percent of the population would survive the direct effects of such an explosion,” HEMA said in a fact sheet. “Planning and preparedness are essential to protect those survivors from delayed residual radiation and other effects of the attack.”
Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. attended a press conference on Oahu Tuesday, along with Gov. David Ige, Vern Miyagi, administrator for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, and others, to discuss the Attack Warning Tone.
“Our island has had its own challenges, hurricanes and other disasters, and so we understand some of the challenges,” he said.
Carvalho said the agencies and counties working together “is truly an example of cooperation, coordination and collaboration and making sure each of our counties are at the table, getting the information they need. Today is a day we get out and take care of the emotional side, we reach out to our people of this beautiful state, we let them know what’s happening, should a disaster like this happen.”
The mayor noted that Kauai is home to the Pacific Missile Range Facility, which is a key military installation that provides training, testing and defense.
“We’re small, but we’re in there,” Carvalho said.
He said he was proud of the teamwork shown so far and said they wanted “to reach out into our communities, homes and businesses, giving them the opportunity to really understand, God forbid, if there really is a disaster such as this, that we are ready. We are prepared as a team.”
The Kauai Emergency Management Agency said the new siren signal will be tested at 11:45 a.m. Friday.
A wailing (alternating rising/falling) tone that advises everyone to take immediate shelter, the “attack warning” tone will be added to the monthly test of the Statewide Outdoor Warning System on the first business day of every month, a press release said.
During test and for all subsequent monthly tests, the standard “alert” tone will sound for 50 seconds, followed by a 10-second pause and then 50 seconds of the “attack warning” tone.
“Although the probability of a nuclear missile attack on Hawaii is still assessed as unlikely, emergency managers from the Kauai Emergency Management Agency and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency stress the importance of whole-community awareness and preparedness should such an event occur,” Carvalho said.
One of the first steps people can take to prepare for a missile attack is the same as preparation for other hazards, such as hurricanes and tsunamis: Families should assemble a 14-day disaster kit of food and supplies.
There are no public shelters designated in Hawaii in the case of nuclear attack, HEMA said.
“If a missile is launched from North Korea, the warning time available for Hawaii is only 15 minutes or less. Given the short timeframe, the public will have little time to react,” the release said. “The public is advised to prepare and exercise a plan for their families ahead of time.
The Attention Alert Signal informs residents to turn on a radio or television for information and instruction for an impending emergency, or if in a coastal inundation area, evacuate to higher grounds.
The Attack Warning Signal directs residents to seek immediate shelter and remain sheltered in place until an all-clear message is broadcasted over radio or television.
“Get in, stay in, stay tuned. That’s a simple message, but very effective,” Carvalho said.
In the release, Szigeti also reminded people to remember that the threat of a missile attack against Hawaii by North Korea is “a highly unlikely possibility.”
“Leisure and business travelers planning a trip to Hawaii should not be alarmed by the testing of this new Attack Warning Signal,” he said.