Nuclear arms experts think North Korea already has, or soon will have, the ability to target Hawaii with a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile with possibly about the same destructive force as the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Warnings are mounting apace with that growing threat.
“North Korea’s unprecedented level of nuclear testing and ballistic missile development offers a sobering reminder that the United States must remain vigilant against rogue nation-states that are able to threaten the homeland,” Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson, who heads the North American Aerospace Defense Command, told a congressional committee Thursday.
In Hawaii a profusion of four-star military commands — including U.S. Pacific Command, which oversees U.S. military activity over half the globe — makes Oahu a strategic and symbolic target. The threat from an unpredictable North Korea, in turn, is prompting a revisitation of some old Cold War practices that until recently seemed laughable.
Duck and cover? Still there in the form of “shelter in place,” state officials say.
Nuclear fallout shelters? In 1981, Oahu had hundreds of them. The Prince Kuhio Building could hold 14,375 people — not because it has a secret underground bunker, but because its concrete parking structure could be used as shelter.
“Each one of those facilities had to be surveyed for how much concrete density [was present],” said Toby Clairmont, executive officer of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the successor to Civil Defense. “And they had to be equipped, so they put medical kits in them, food, sanitary kits, all that kind of stuff.”
As time went on, funding for those provisions stopped, and the stocks were disposed of because they became too old, Clairmont said. In the majority of cases, existing fallout shelter markings are out of date and no longer applicable.
Alternatively, the U.S. military would try to shoot down an incoming North Korean ICBM with ground-based interceptors in Alaska and California, although the $36 billion system was rated by the Pentagon in December as having low reliability.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, ICBMs in the late 1990s came off Hawaii Emergency Management’s threat list of mostly natural hazards. Terrorism was added, and in 2006 the state practiced for a half-kiloton explosion in Honolulu Harbor that resulted in up to 8,000 casualties with injuries or radiation.
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