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Hawaii prepares for nuclear attack, trying not to scare the daylights out of residents and tourists

Why North Korea's latest ballistic missile flew 7 times higher than the International Space Station (Video: The Washington Post)

HONOLULU — As North Korean missiles soar over the Pacific and seismographs keep vigil for tremors in the vicinity of Pyongyang, officials in Hawaii are doing what they must: preparing for the possibility of a nuclear attack.

But it’s a delicate task, especially when word gets out, as it did this week, about a “secret meeting” in which officials and legislators looked at slides on the probable impact of a nuclear blast at “at various altitudes above” Pearl Harbor, as Honolulu Civil Beat reported.

After all, it’s one thing to be sitting in New York or Washington and looking at those maps showing the range of North Korea’s ICBMs, and another entirely to be sitting in Honolulu and seeing “Hawaii” in small type just a smidge beyond the outer circle of destruction.

Why does North Korea hate the U.S.? Look to the Korean War. (Video: Anna Fifield, Jason Aldag/The Washington Post, Photo: KOREA NEWS SERVICE/The Washington Post)

The only reason the meeting on Tuesday was closed, said one of the attendees, State Rep. Gene Ward (R), was to avoid worrying the public. On the other hand, he told The Washington Post, talk of nuclear preparedness is “probably more surreal to younger generations” who don’t remember a time when people had fallout shelters in their back yards.

“Now it’s time to take it seriously,” he said, “not to be an alarmist but to be informing people.”

What’s going on in Hawaii does have a whiff of the 1950s when schoolchildren drilled for nuclear attack by ducking under their desks, a useless refuge in the event of a thermonuclear bomb. Americans didn’t panic in the streets then and Hawaii residents aren’t panicking now. Indeed, it’s not even a subject of daily conversation.

Still, State Senate President Ronald D. Kouchi (D), who also attended the meeting, said: “It’s very unsettling. There are people who are concerned. … The best way to deal with it is to be prepared for any scenario.”

If nothing else, education on preparedness — reminding them to keep a 14-day food and water supply — will come in handy when Hawaii gets socked with one of its famous hurricanes.

A public briefing scheduled for Thursday will indeed encourage the public to consider preparation for nuclear attack as a hazard just like hurricanes and tsunamis.

But a nuclear attack is no hurricane.

For anyone who confuses the two, the document passed around at the meeting, called “Summary of Major Preparedness Response Initiatives,” which was obtained by Hawaii Civil Beat, makes that terrifyingly clear.

“Nuclear Detonation Phase I” is the first line of the planning document, which details the tasks completed and those ahead for state officials. That’s followed by: “Enhance missile launch notification process between U.S. Pacific Command and the State Warning Point.”

Then comes the truly petrifying, “Prepare a planning scenario focused on a 100-kiloton nuclear weapon detonated 1,000 feet above the city of Honolulu (completed)” and “Publish a new ‘Ballistic Missile Threat Annex’ to the State Emergency Operations Plan (underway).”

Here’s a few samples from the document’s list of “FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS with ANSWERS:”

Q: I have heard that planning for a nuclear attack from North Korea is futile given most of the population will be killed or critically injured. Is that true?
A. No. Current estimates of human casualties based on the size (yield) of North Korean nuclear weapon technology suggests an explosion less than 8 miles in diameter. More than 90% of the population would survive the direct effects of such an explosion. Planning and preparedness are essential to protect those survivors from delayed residual radiation (fallout) and other effects of the attack such as the loss of utilities and communication systems, structural fires, etc.
Q. Are there public shelters (blast or fallout) designated in our communities?
A. No. There are currently no designated shelters in the State of Hawaii at this time. The short warning time (12 to 15 minutes) would not allow for residents or visitors to locate such a shelter in advance of the missile impact.
Q. Are the neighbor islands safe?
A. We do not know. … Although most analysts believe the desired target will be Oahu given the concentration of military and government facilities, a missile may stray and impact the open ocean or even a neighbor island. All areas of the State of Hawaii must consider the possibility of missile impact.

And everyone knows that an atomic blast is not just a terrible storm, but a potential holocaust.

“It seems to me that primal instincts are just going to overwhelm nearly everybody,” State Sen. Gil Riviere (D) told Civil Beat. He noted that the state emergency management agency had already adopted the mantra “get inside, stay inside, stay tuned.”

But, he added, “people are just going to be fleeing, they’re not going to stay in.”

Courtney Teague, who reported from Honolulu, writes for Honolulu Civil Beat and did a story on this subject for its news site.

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