Hawaii Is Safe, But We Shouldn’t Be Complacent

civil beatApril 25, 2016

By Gene Ward

Missiles in North Korea, cyberattacks and the possibility of terrorist shooters springing up in our midst all provide ample reason to be prepared.

It is not often this isolated jewel we call home — situated in the middle of the Pacific — becomes synonymous with anything other than sun-drenched beaches and abounding aloha spirit. But it is in part this very thing, the seclusion, that has led some experts to ponder whether Hawaii is really safe.

Three recurring events remind us of our vulnerabilities, the first being cyber threats. According to Todd Nacapuy, chief innovation officer for the State of Hawaii, we are hit by millions of cyber attacks per day. Our banks, utilities and military installations are the prime targets and remind us that knocking out our power grid or financial systems is the new normal of modern warfare, and it is going on around us 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The second recurring danger is North Korea’s continual probe into the Pacific basin. Between January and March of this year alone, North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test and released a propaganda video called “Last Chance (America).”

Should Hawaii take this threat seriously? According to Adm. William E. Gortney, commander of the U.S. Northern Command, in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, “We watch (North Korea) very carefully. And, you know, their very long range capability is a function of how far do they reach. … So even from their own waters, they can reach part of our homeland. Hawaii is part of our homeland, and they can reach Hawaii.”

Last week, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard joined with other members of Congress to discuss “the clear and present danger of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons capabilities and the missile defense the United States has in and around the Pacific to best defend the United States of America and its 300 million people,” according to the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.

The third threat has been the most visible in the rest of the world, but not here in Hawaii.

Terrorism since 9/11 has been motivated by fanatical ideological and religious fervor that threatens everywhere in the world, including Hawaii. With large soft targets of our 8 million tourists each year, plus any attack, however small, at any of our military facilities would have huge symbolic value for an enemy who wants all of America to cower in view of its recent successes in Paris, San Bernardino and the Brussels airport.

At a recent meeting in East Honolulu, a panel of counterterrorism experts from the FBI, Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Honolulu Police Department stated that Hawaii is protected by a coalition of more than 20 federal, state and local organizations that work together on a daily basis. The Honolulu Police Department stressed that we should all know what to do in the event of an active shooter (see this excellent training video by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department) recalling the “Xerox Killer” of 1999 who shot and killed seven people in his office on Nimitz Highway.

In the end, panelists concluded that, yes, Hawaii is safe, but warned us not to become complacent. If you see something, say something. If it’s credible, we were told to call the FBI at (808) 566-4300 or HPD at (808) 723-8581.

Knowing that we are under daily cyberattacks in Hawaii or that we’re vulnerable to North Korean missiles or that an active shooter could appear in our midst is not a cause for fear. But they provide a sober suggestion that we be prepared and not scared.

About the Author

  • Gene Ward
    Rep. Gene Ward (R-Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley) is a Vietnam veteran and former presidential appointee as a senior democracy officer in the U.S. Agency for International Development.
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