There is not a single "designated" blast or fallout shelter in the entire state. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
Hawaii is woefully vulnerable to a North Korean nuclear attack
by Gabriella Munoz, Washington Examiner, Sept 1, 2017
In an updated version of the Cold War's "duck and cover," the state now advises residents to "shelter in place." According to the "Guidance Summary for Coordinated Public Messaging" on nuclear detonation, if one hears the alerts go off on any of the three state-run emergency alert systems or see a "brilliant white light (flash)" then one should get inside the nearest building ASAP. If caught outside, one should lie flat on the ground.
There is not a single "designated" blast or fallout shelter in the entire state. The plan puts this information in small print.
Some may argue that, Hawaii being a series of islands, there's no space for fallout shelters. That is not the issue. There were previous shelters at the ready during the Cold War. The upkeep of and funding for these shelters fell away during the 1990s with the collapse of the USSR and the diminished nuclear concern.
The state released a document of answers to frequently asked questions on ballistic missile preparedness. The Hawaii State Warning Point would be notified in approximately five minutes of a North Korean watch, and would be able to initiate the warning systems within two minutes after that. Residents would only have a maximum of 15 minutes to find shelter before impact.
This limited response time is the reason updating or building new blast or fallout shelters would be "not practical," according to the executive officer of Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency, Toby Clairmont.
In an interview with Khon news, a local Hawaii news outlet, Clairmont said, "We looked at the old list [of shelters] and there are buildings that are gone now. They were torn down, so right now, fallout shelters doesn't look like our best strategy."
However, he noted that "if at some point the risk gets high enough and things change," they would consider investing in shelters.
Clairmont and HEMA's Guidance Summary both stress that the best place to take shelter would be in a concrete building. According to ready.gov, "If your community has no designated fallout shelters, make a list of potential shelters near your home, workplace and school, such as basements, subways, tunnels, or the windowless center area of middle floors in a high-rise building."
The thing is, Hawaii, as a tropical island, is covered in homes that are neither concrete nor windowless.
Take for example, Pearl City (my hometown), Aiea, or any of the smaller towns near Pearl Harbor, which strategically would make a likely target. Many homes there were built before 1993 (the standard for hurricane preparedness) and are wooden, with many windows to make use of the trade wind breeze.
There are buildings that are concrete, safe, and would be able to host a multitude of people that could serve as fallout shelters, despite not being designated locations or officially mandated to be one in an emergency. However, major ones, such as Pearlridge Shopping Center, Home Depot, Sam's Club, and Pearl City Shopping Center, just to name a few in Pearl City, are typically located on busy highways, such as Kamehameha Highway, that are often jammed with bumper-to-bumper traffic.
Even without traffic, driving to a safe location would be nearly impossible.
"What's going to happen is you're going to hear the sirens. You're going to hear what goes off on the radio and on your smart phone, and you've got just a few minutes to protect yourself. There's no time to be looking at a map or even driving a block. You need to take shelter right now," Clairmont explained to KHON.
Those in school or work, already in or within running distance of shelter, would probably be best-off.
However, that doesn't include the part of the population -- seniors, young children, stay-at-home parents, etc. -- who may live in these types of vulnerable homes. It also doesn't account for the major homeless population in the state. As of November 2016, Hawaii was ranked third amongst states with the highest rate of unsheltered homeless people with a total of 7,921 homeless, 54 percent of which was unsheltered.
Hawaii has been a military target since WWII, when the Imperial Japanese Army rained down bombs on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Children had to pack gas masks in their backpacks on the way to school. After that, during the Cold War, children had to practice "duck and cover" up to three times a week in some places.
There has been no serious de-escalation of tensions since North Korea's nuclear test back in mid-July. Just this past week, on Aug. 29, North Korea launched their 14th test this year alone. The very next day, the U.S. shot back with its own show of missile defense off the island of Kauai.
The risk of an actual nuclear attack is still low, but it's a persistent reality that is becoming increasingly conceivable. Both states are already pulling out the big guns and taking aim. Rather than wait for things to get worse, Hawaii and the federal government should start reconsidering those shelters now.
Gabriella Munoz is a commentary desk intern with the Washington Examiner and a student at Georgetown University.