Misfired alarm raises questions on the effectiveness of planning for an extremely unlikely event
Is the state’s nuclear preparedness campaign worth the fear relative to the chances of attack? Hawaii is way out front nationally on preparation for what it calls an “extremely unlikely” event, but Saturday’s ballistic missile attack false alarm showed the dangerous flip side to what is supposed to be prudent planning. Motorists were on the verge of running red lights in their haste to get home or to safety. People across Oahu desperately sought shelter. The real thing would provide just 12 to 13 minutes to do something.
North Korea is making strides, but its nuclear missile program is far from proven, and many experts say Kim Jong Un is not crazy.
Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum in Honolulu, a subsidiary of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he continues to strongly believe the chance of a North Korean missile attack on Hawaii is less than 1 percent.
“Kim Jong Un is not suicidal and such an event would result in North Korea’s total destruction,” Cossa said in an email. “Obviously false alarms are troublesome and a better fail-safe system needs to be in place. Preparing for the worst case is what
civil defense officials are supposed to do, but clearly they need to do it better.”
At a military partnership conference on Friday, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi addressed what he refers to as ongoing misconceptions. One is, “Why are you planning? You are wasting your time. It’s not going to happen,” Miyagi related. But his retort was: “It could happen. We need to plan for it.” Gov. David Ige said in November, ahead of a new monthly air raid warning siren test, that the community needed to understand this “will become the new normal as we proceed forward.” “There is a real threat (to Hawaii),” retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Dan “Fig” Leaf, a former U.S. Pacific Command deputy commander, said at Friday’s conference.
David Wolff, a former diplomat in the region, speaking as a private citizen at the event, said hurricane preparedness, a more likely threat for Hawaii, will get far less money than North Korea preparedness. “The truth probably is that North Korea, although they threaten us with war, don’t actually mean it,” Wolff said. A country that doesn’t talk about war, and likes to talk about peace, “actually is the larger existential threat to U.S. interests in the region — and that’s China,” he added. Meanwhile, protests seeking denuclearization and/or a stop to the monthly “attack warning” siren drills are starting to crop up in response.
Retired Army Col. Ann Wright, who is with Veterans for Peace and protested the drills at the state Capitol earlier this month, is circulating a petition at diy.rootsaction. org that says the air raid sirens heighten anxiety and stress and make residents fearful and accepting of “whatever the government feeds them on how great threats to our nation are.”
“Hawaii citizens are demanding the state Emergency Management Agency stop the fearmongering with the nuclear attack warning siren and call on state officials including Hawaii’s congressional delegation to make a firm stand for diplomacy, not military action, to resolve the crisis on the Korean Peninsula,” the petition states. On Saturday afternoon, more than 30 people gathered along Ala Moana Boulevard to protest with signs that said, “No Nukes, No Excuse” and “No War on North Korea.” The morning’s false ballistic missile warning was an “in-your-face moment, a ‘holy crap, this is real,’” said Will Caron, who is with Young Progressives Demanding Action. “What better time than now to get outside and, first of all, give thanks that we’re still here. But then also try to further an important message that we believe in, which is there needs to be an end to militarization and nuclear proliferation.”
Preparing for the worst case is what civil defense officials are supposed to do, but clearly they need to do it better.”
Ralph Cossa President, Pacific Forum in Honolulu