Mis­fired alarm raises ques­tions on the ef­fec­tive­ness of plan­ning for an ex­tremely un­likely event

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Wil­liam Cole wcole@starad­ver­tiser.com

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

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