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Lawmaker says Hawaii obvious target should N. Korea strike; urges readiness

KAILUA-KONA — Rep. Matthew LoPresti says a revisiting of Hawaii’s disaster resilience plan has been a long time coming and is particularly crucial now in light of escalating threats of a North Korean nuclear attack on the state — or at least the escalating perception of such threats.

The House Public Safety Committee convened a public hearing Thursday to discuss Senate Concurrent Resolution 169 SD1 HD1, which suggests the Hawaii Department of Defense, in conjunction with several other state and federal agencies, revamp the state’s disaster preparedness strategies.

LoPresti, D-Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry, Ewa Villages, Hoakalei, Ocean Pointe, who serves as the vice chairman of the committee and who introduced the resolution said several factors create cause for concern, not the least of which is that Hawaii is home to the United States Pacific Command (USPACOM).

“We’re a strategic target. It’s obvious,” LoPresti said. “When you combine a nuclear-armed rogue state with blustering foreign policy, it’s a recipe for state legislators having to take pause and say, ‘Wait a minute. What are we doing about fallout shelters?’ It’s kind of bringing us back to memories of growing up in the Cold War.”

The resolution highlights fallout shelters, specifically urging the Department of Defense, or HDOD, to inventory functional shelters, modernize those that are outdated, restock provisions at all of them and create a statewide awareness campaign to educate the public in preparation for the worst-case scenario.

It further requests HDOD present a report to the Legislature 20 days prior to the regular session of 2018 outlining recommendations for upgrades to the state’s disaster resilience plan so lawmakers can develop policy and allocate funds to tighten up Hawaii’s greatest areas of vulnerability.

LoPresti noted Oahu’s shelter plan was last updated in 1985 and some of the shelters mentioned in it no longer exist, adding the landscape and population density across every island has shifted significantly.

Referencing a recent article in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, LoPresti said experts believe North Korea may be capable of mounting 15- or 20-kiloton warheads atop intercontinental ballistic missiles, of which Hawaii and its essential military facilities would be in range.

Such warheads are the same size as those dropped by the United States on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Maj. Rob Shuford of the USPACOM Public Affairs Office offered assurances Thursday that the military is closely monitoring the situation and there is no reason to panic.

“USPACOM has a multi-layered, integrated missile defense system able to respond to any and all threats posed by potential adversaries,” Shuford wrote in an email to West Hawaii Today. “USPACOM, in coordination with U.S. Strategic Command, U.S. Northern Command, and the North American Aerospace Defense Command continuously monitors actions in the theater, and at this time we do not assess any imminent threat to Hawaii.

“The U.S. military coordinates and communicates closely with Hawaii state emergency planners and will keep state authorities informed of any change regarding a threat to Hawaii.”

LoPresti said the resolution isn’t about fear. Rather, it’s about addressing a lag in common sense preparedness across all islands that stretches back far too long.

He added that contrary to what some may believe, members of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency explained at the hearing Thursday the worst-case scenario is not a ground strike on Oahu. Instead, it’s a high-altitude detonation that would create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) knocking out all electronics within a 1,500-mile radius.

Such a radius, depending on the point of detonation, could easily encompass the entire state and beyond.

The resulting EMP would effectively shut down harbors, disable electric pumps bringing up drinking water from wells and create a host of other problems.

“You’re kidding yourself if you think duck and cover would help you survive the blast,” LoPresti said. “This is about fallout. This is about having resources for the survivors.”

The resolution also requests redevelopment plans for Aloha Stadium be amended to include the design for a reinforced parking lot that can be readily repurposed as a backup harbor yard in case Honolulu Harbor was crippled to some degree.

After discussions Thursday, LoPresti said the resolution will be updated to include the identification of a long-term alternate port on one of the neighbor islands in the event Honolulu Harbor, the state’s main transportation hub, is ever rendered defunct.

 

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