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Hawaii public schools urged to conduct nuclear drills

State emergency officials want public schools to be prepared for a possible North Korea missile attack, though Hawaii’s education leaders aren’t planning any drills specific to nuclear detonations just yet.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency staff met with representatives from the state Department of Education early last month and recommended DOE schools conduct drills during the school year to prepare for the unlikely event of a nuclear attack, according to Lt. Col. Charles Anthony, spokesman for the state Department of Defense.

The recommendation is part of the state’s ongoing effort to create a preparedness plan for the North Korea threat. Hawaii is the first in the country to formulate such a plan.

Emergency officials released a one-page list of nuclear detonation preparedness guidelines from the plan that advises residents to seek shelter and remain in place for up to two weeks in the event of an attack. The state will release more information about the preparedness plan in the coming months, Anthony said.

“In the same way schools conduct fire drills and tsunami drills, there’s another one that will be added to the tool kit, and that’s preparedness drills as well,” Anthony said Thursday.

“This would be another type of drill that schools already routinely practice, and it’s up to the individual schools to conduct,” he said.

In an email to the Tribune-Herald, DOE spokesman Derek Inoshita confirmed the department’s July meeting with HEMA but said the DOE thinks its standard “shelter in place” drill — which urges students to remain “inside a location with locked doors and windows” until an all-clear is given — is the “appropriate action for schools to take” in the event of a nuclear attack.

Schools already conduct shelter in place drills, Inoshita said, which cover multiple emergency scenarios including the presence of an active shooter or natural or man-made environmental threats.

“It is not specific to a nuclear attack and is not centered around the North Korea threat,” Inoshita said.

The DOE “does not yet have a specified role in (nuclear) preparedness procedures,” he said, and the department “will work with (Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s) guidance and modify school curriculums when needed.”

Although a nuclear attack is considered unlikely, Anthony said officials want people to start thinking ahead.

“We didn’t want to wait until North Korea had the capability in such that they could launch a missile tomorrow and create a catastrophic event in Hawaii,” Anthony said. “The public education and information campaign is to get people thinking about it well in advance so that in the event something like that would occur, they could react automatically. Although it’s unlikely, they should still be prepared for it.”

Some experts think many residents in the state could survive the initial nuclear blast, and most deaths would result from ensuing radiation sickness. Anthony said sheltering in place could provide some protection from radiation exposure.

“If you can get people to shelter in place for up to two weeks, you will greatly reduce the amount of people who succumb to casualties from such a catastrophic event,” he said.

Emergency drills are nothing new to Hawaii students: Shelter in place is one of five drills DOE schools must perform each year, into addition to preparing for earthquakes, evacuations, lockdowns and tsunamis.

North Korea test-fired its second intercontinental ballistic missile July 28. The missile reportedly flew for about 45 minutes, about five minutes longer than the ICBM it test-fired July 4.

Since February, the country has test-fired 18 missiles of various types during 12 different tests.

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