Tourism boosters say the threat is too improbable to justify a plan that could scare away travelers, but the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency believes preparations cannot wait any longer.
“We do not want to cause any undue stress for the public … but there is clear evidence that [North Korea] is trying to develop ballistic missiles that could conceivably one day reach our state,” agency administrator Vern T. Miyagi said in a statement Thursday to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
As early as November, school students will begin evacuation drills similar to those practiced for “active shooter” scenarios. The plan involves public service announcements to “get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned,” the agency said.
But Charlene Chan, director of communications for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, told the newspaper the possibility of a missile attack too “remote.”
“Everyone’s safety in Hawaii is always our top priority … [but] this could lead to travelers and groups staying away from Hawaii,” Chan told the newspaper. “The effect of such a downturn would ultimately be felt by residents who rely on tourism’s success for their livelihood.”
The plans recall Cold War crisis preparations on the islands, which suffered Japan’s surprise 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
North Korea test launched an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4. The Hwasong-14 was not capable of reaching Hawaii, but the rogue nation has sworn it would test a longer-range missile this year.
Such a missile would take around 20 minutes to reach Hawaii from North Korea. The emergency response systems would give Hawaiians about eight to 12 minutes to react.
The state already announced plans to begin testing a new emergency siren in November.
On April 10, Miyagi announced his agency would begin working with the U.S. military to look at emergency responses. At the time, Miyagi called the likelihood of a North Korean missile attack “a low probability,” but said missile tests by North Korea were “an awakening.”
The most recent North Korean launch landed in Japanese waters, within a 200-mile band known as the Japanese exclusive economic zone.