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Threats from N Korea prompt Hawaii to test attack sirens, most didn’t hear

(Cpl. Ricky S. Gomez/U.S. Marine Corps via AP)

Waikiki Beach would be the most likely place for a small panic, right? All those tourists, blissfully unaware. The women who sit so still with their legs straight out in front of them at the water’s edge just smiling beatifically at their toes. The dads who toss Nerf footballs to their crying baby sons. The couples who pass a bottle of sunscreen back and forth between them, murmuring to each other that this is nice, isn’t it? It’s so nice. Hawaii is nice.

At 11:45 Friday morning, all those people were going to get a blast of the monthly Hawaii Emergency Management Agency siren test plus an extra helping of scary — the return of the imminent attack warning signal, a special added feature thanks to the North Korean nuclear threat and our country’s current inelegant diplomacy.

I headed down to Waikiki Beach, figuring it would be a good place for people-watching and reaction-gathering at the moment the siren sounded.

Friday was overcast with intermittent tiny raindrops. The sky was mostly dirty gray with a few patches of faded blue. Everyone looked so unaware. I watched and waited. I braced.

And then 11:45 came. And nothing. I mean not a thing. I had to strain to hear the siren from a couple blocks mauka over the noise of the traffic on Kalakaua and the hum of hotel ventilation systems. I scanned the beach looking for, I don’t know, scared eyes, worried faces, maybe a brief pause in the action. Not a thing.

You can’t hear the warning sirens on parts of Waikiki Beach.

Yeah. There are apparently lots of places where the sirens can’t be heard.

Parts of Kailua. Ko Olina. Pockets of downtown. The Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe. People posted their concerns on the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s Facebook site. They sounded almost disappointed.

After all the international media coverage about Hawaii preparing for nuclear attack for the first time in decades and the sorry faces and head-shaking by network news anchors reporting the story, there was great anticipation for the wavering wail of doom that would stop us all in our tracks and reveal to us some terrible truths about our own mortality, the state of the world and the fragility of even ordinary days. When you work yourself up to living through that scare, there’s a very strange letdown when you can’t even hear the dang thing.

And, of course, this begs the question: Should the sirens be heard on every square inch of Hawaii? There are other ways to reach people. The alert and follow-up information are also broadcast on TV and radio, and you can have alerts sent to your phone. First responders would no doubt be on the beach to follow up with information on taking shelter. But if you’re in a pink floatie in the shallow water near the Waikiki wall, you might not know you should panic, which, if you are so inclined, could make it the best place to be if the worst should happen.

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