The state plans to hold an exercise in mid-August simulating the explosion of a half-kiloton nuclear device at the entrance of Honolulu Harbor, a mock blast that theoretically would result in 10,000 casualties.
State Adjutant Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, head of the Hawai’i National Guard, said Hawai’i is one of the first to take on the nuclear device planning.
Several hundred state and military planners and first responders will take part Aug. 14 to 16 in “Exercise ‘A Kele.”
Edward Teixeira, vice director of state Civil Defense, said the name of the exercise uses the Hawaiian words ” ‘a,” for hot and fiery, and “kele,” for impurity, signifying radiation.
The Department of Homeland Security about two years ago developed 15 national planning scenarios, including simulating an “improvised nuclear device” explosion.
Planned for a year and a half, ‘A Kele comes as Hawai’i reportedly was targeted on the Fourth of July in a North Korean test of a long-range Taepodong-2 missile that U.S. officials said blew up 42 seconds or sooner after launch.
The half-kiloton explosion being simulated in Honolulu is smaller than the 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. A larger, 22-kiloton device exploded over Nagasaki.
Teixeira said the blast radius for the simulated exercise will encompass the diamondhead end of Honolulu Harbor, overlap Sand Island, and with prevailing winds, a plume will extend out to sea paralleling ‘Ewa Beach.
State and federal military command and emergency responders will take part, including U.S. Pacific Command at Camp Smith.
“Essentially, you will see many emergency operations centers going round the clock,” Teixeira said.
Although Honolulu Harbor is the site for the simulated explosion, Bellows Air Force Station will represent “ground zero” for the blast, and several hundred emergency responders will have roles there, including the state Urban Search and Rescue Team to search for casualties, and the Honolulu Fire Department, which will work with the health department’s radiological monitoring team, Teixeira said.
Lee said he didn’t want to turn the exercise into a mass casualty drill, and “we’re not going to shut down commerce.”
But he said it would be big enough, using computers and other communications, to simulate the loss of 30 percent of island communications.
The exercise will help the state develop a nuclear explosion evacuation plan. Officials said there is a terrorism response plan calling for a collective state and federal response using the powers of the president to declare a disaster.
“(But) for a nuclear scenario like (the one planned), that particular plan has to be developed,” Teixeira said. “So this is good. It forces us to get there.”
During the Cold War years, there was a plan to deal with radiological fallout and an evacuation plan to create one-way streets and move people away from Pearl Harbor and the Honolulu area — likely target areas — and up to the North Shore, Teixeira said.
There also was a component to airlift and sealift possibly 100,000 people to Neighbor Islands, he said.
“Once we find out what happens (in the upcoming scenario), we’ll be calling for (simulated) evacuations back to a safer distance,” Teixeira said. “It may not be all the way to the North Shore, but I’m thinking in those terms, because when you see something like that go off, and we start picking up radiological readings, you don’t know where the buffer zone is going to be.”
Teixeira said in a real nuclear explosion, there likely would be a lot of fires and calls coming in from all over the city to 911. An electromagnetic pulse could make phones go dead.
A presidential disaster declaration would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency and military to work with the state. If that couldn’t be obtained right away, U.S. Pacific Command would be able to assist the state until a declaration was made.
MODEL FOR DISASTERS
Lee said the state was out front when it conducted an avian flu exercise last August, and for the upcoming training “we’ll be shown high interest” from the Defense Department because it is trying to build a nationwide exercise on improvised nuclear devices, Lee said.
“They are going to take a lot of lessons learned from Hawai’i,” he said.
Although the exercise is occurring in the wake of the North Korean missile test, officials said it was planned long before.
In comments yesterday, Lee also downplayed the danger to Hawai’i of the missile test, which the conservative Japanese newspaper Sankei reported targeted waters off the state.
“It’s good to be a small set of islands in the middle of the Pacific, because there is absolutely a huge difference between the ability to reach, and the ability to actually hit something,” Lee said.
“I think we’re giving too much technical credit to the ability of the North Koreans.”
Beyond that, Lee questioned the veracity of the Japanese report saying Hawai’i was targeted.
“All I can say is I have not received any factual basis that lends credibility to that report,” he said.
An improvised nuclear device may be a more real threat.
John Pike, director of Virginia-based military think tank GlobalSecurity.org, said a version of a North Korean medium range missile will fit inside a 40-foot cargo container.
“You can put those cargo containers on tramp steamers that you can buy on Web sites for $1 million apiece, and there are 100,000 ships like that,” Pike said. “The United States does not have positive identification of all those ships.”
Lee said the security “is fine within the state of Hawai’i,” and people should make preparations for natural disasters and have water and other supplies on hand, but an improvised nuclear device “is a little more realistic threat we have to prepare for than a (North Korean) missile.”
The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.