The Hawaiian coast may not be the first place you think of when it comes to international nuclear conflict. But thanks to the North Korea weapons program, it's a possibility for which officials on the island chain are preparing. Given its status as a U.S. state and its proximity to Asia, Hawaii could be one of the principal targets for a North Korean missile, and now Hawaii is preparing with Cold War-era nuclear siren tests.
The first statewide test will be held this week, officials plan to announce on Tuesday. That's the first time in more than 30 years that the system has been tested, and the system will now be assessed monthly. Hawaii Emergency Management Agency chief Vern Miyagi has been working to get Hawaiians prepared for all types of emergencies.
"Emergency preparedness is knowing what to expect and what to do for all hazards. Those include hurricanes, tsunami, and even though the probability is low, an attack or terror incident," Miyagi said in an online video posted earlier this month. He does not specifically address a nuclear attack but does say that should an "attack warning siren" sound, the suggested response is to "get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned."
More information specifically regarding the nuclear sirens will be shared at the press conference Tuesday. The system, though, will seemingly differentiate the nuclear threat with a "newly-activated Attack Warning Tone, intended to warn Hawaii residents of an impending nuclear missile attack." Miyagi explains in another video that the sound it makes is a "wailing tone."
It will be tested at the same time as the usual warning system (which has a steady tone). Either tone that sounds, though, the advice is the same. Take immediate shelter and then "get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned."
The state agency is prepared to detail "the need for the warning, how it will be used, and what the agency is doing to prepare our state for a nuclear threat." In other words, Hawaii is taking the North Korea threat very seriously. You can livestream the event on the agency's website.
Agency spokeswoman Arlina Agbayani told Reuters that the latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests point to the capability of reaching the state. And a blast could kill some 18,000 people if detonated over Pearl Harbor. Another 50,000 to 120,000 would be injured. If and when the sirens are used, residents would have 12 to 15 minutes to seek shelter indoors, Reuters reported.
North Korea has been testing both ICBMs and nuclear weapons this year. In September a nuclear test, perhaps the biggest yet, was estimated to be about 10 times larger than the previous test. The North Koreans called it a "perfect success." They've also been testing ICBMs throughout the year. One in September — which flew over U.S. ally Japan — was seen as likely able to hit the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.
The threats toward Guam were then renewed in October after the U.S. military and South Korea held joint exercises, something the North sees as a practice for an actual invasion.
A successful launching of a missile holding a nuclear warhead towards Hawaii seems still a ways off. That's mostly because North Korea needs to make the warheads small enough to fit on the missile but powerful enough to cause real damage. Experts say they're not quite there, but are growing increasingly closer.
That means it's probably not time to move to Florida yet (the one part of the country definitely not within range of a missile). Still, though, Hawaii's preparation is seen as necessary by state officials.