LIHUE — A warning siren test alerting people to a possible nuclear attack was barely noticed at Nawiliwili Park, as visitors continued shopping and residents kept chatting Friday morning.
Bonnie and Ian McLeod from Alberta, Canada, just arrived on island aboard a cruise ship. As they walked by Anchor Cove, they did not know anything about the wailing siren that sounded at 11:45, along with many other visitors in the area.
“We find it disconcerting that there is not enough news you hear about. Nothing on this cruise ship even mentioned the test,” Bonnie said. “If it happened for real, we would just get back on board.”
The Kauai Emergency Management Agency tested its new attack-warning siren signal from more than 50 locations, but many were unaware of the test and its signal designation.
Although not audible on all parts of the island, the standard “alert” tone sounded for 50 seconds, followed by a 10-second pause and then 50 seconds of the “attack-warning” tone.
“I’ve been listening for the siren, because I read about it in the paper, but it wasn’t very impressive,” said Mike Taylor from Virginia, who was visiting Kauai with his son from Los Angeles for the first time.
“I think people here should have some concern about it,” Taylor said. “I guess it’s kind of hard to build fallout shelters on volcanic rock. So hopefully the missile defense system at the end of the island is really honing their skills.”
One man didn’t see much point in it.
“If it hits us, ‘tuck and cover’ ain’t gonna cut it, maybe a scuba tank,” said Gary Loners, a Hawaii resident for 43 years. “We’re just a small part of this little puzzle out here in the Pacific Ocean. If you only have minutes, then enjoy your final alohas and mahalos.”
The public would have less than 15 minutes to react if a missile is launched from North Korea, about 4,500 miles away.
“I know they tried once and it missed, but I don’t think it’s as bad here versus the rest of the United States,” said Brenda Birdine, owner of Birdine Public Research, who has lived in Lihue nearly four years.
“I work for TSA security, and nobody ever said anything about the siren,” she said. “I just barely heard that one, but the tsunami one you can hear it. I don’t think it’s as important as the tsunami warning.”
Vern Miyagi, administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said early reports indicate the statewide test went well, but officials could get complaints later. They will document any they receive and investigate if there were any glitches — a process they carry out after every monthly test of a siren for natural disasters.
There are 385 warning sirens throughout the islands. How well someone hears them depends on how close they are to a device, Miyagi said.
Hawaii officials said it is the first state to bring back the Cold War-era attack warning system. The wailing siren sounded for a minute after the usual testing of the steady alert for tsunamis and other events that residents are used to hearing.
The possibility of a strike is remote but it’s important to be prepared, Gov. David Ige said this week. The test will ensure the public knows what to do in case of an impending attack, he said.
The state delayed the test for a month to let people know it would be happening, Miyagi said. Hawaii turned to public service announcements on TV and radio, town hall meetings, information on agency websites and media stories.
The test comes the same week North Korea fired a powerful, nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile it calls the Hwasong-15, leading analysts to conclude the nation has made a jump in its missile capability. The weapon would have a range of more than 8,100 miles, easily reaching the U.S. Mainland.
Hawaii is one of the closest states to North Korea, and its large military presence could make it more of a target. The island of Oahu is home to the U.S. Pacific Command, the military’s headquarters for the Asia-Pacific region. It also hosts dozens of Navy ships at Pearl Harbor, and is a key base for the Air Force, Army and Marine Corps.
Kauai is home to the U.S. Navy Pacific Missile Range Facility, which offers training, testing and defense capabilities.
According to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, people are recommended to seek immediate shelter indoors away from windows. If you are outdoors, lie flat on the ground and do not look at the flash of light.
“It’s a good education for people to know the different sirens, so we understand what to do in any situation,” said Gerald Ancheta Jr., who works for county Department of Parks and Recreation at Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall. “You can only do so much in real life events when it happens. This convention hall is designated for emergency service but not a nuclear one.”
“With today’s technology, cell phones can warn you,” he added. “It’s a positive thing, at least you can try to get some preparations and move.”
The first thing people can do well before any alarm sounds is prepare enough food and supplies for two weeks. Most people TGI asked did not have enough supplies to last that long, but longtime resident and mother of three, Kristy Kahananui said she did.
“I wouldn’t be able to get to my kids in 15 minutes, but they are close enough to get home,” Kahananui said. “I think being on Kauai and us being a prime target with PMRF, it is scary. But I’d rather be warned than not know. I would panic, but it’s important to be aware.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.