Nuclear initiative: Hilo Medical Center to conduct its own disaster drill

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Hilo Medical Center plans a full-scale exercise to practice how to handle medical needs in the event of a nuclear bomb detonation.

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Hilo Medical Center plans a full-scale exercise to practice how to handle medical needs in the event of a nuclear bomb detonation.

“I met with the hospital emergency preparedness leadership (Thursday). We agreed to do a full-scale nuclear disaster drill on Dec. 1,” hospital spokeswoman Elena Cabatu said in a Friday email.

The hospital’s drills are a response to still-evolving plans by Hawaii to conduct a statewide test of sirens to alert residents in the event of a nuclear attack. Cabatu said state administrators are awaiting approval from counties before proceeding.

“But we will proceed with our drills,” she said.

Cabatu said the hospital will have two “tabletop exercises” in November in preparation for its full-scale drill. Tabletop exercises typically involve practice scenarios that participants aren’t told about ahead of time. When exercise participants arrive, they’re given a scenario and talk through how to respond.

The hospital is in early planning stages. It’s unclear, so far, if community members will be asked to volunteer as actors, where the hospital might conduct mock decontamination, or what it would do with contaminated materials.

What once seemed unthinkable for many — modern-day nuclear war — has become possibility. During the 1950s, schoolchildren were consistently subjected to nuclear drills, getting under desks or holding books over their heads in hallways.

Worries about nuclear war have ramped up in recent months after sobering back-and-forth rhetoric between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim’s regime has conducted at least five missile tests in recent months, including firing one missile that flew over Japan last week, triggering the Japanese government to warn citizens to take cover.

The New York Times reported that missile flew 1,700 miles in 15 minutes and fell into the sea without harming people or property.

Hawaii is a little more than 4,000 miles from Japan.

U.S. officials worry North Korea’s missiles could now reach some U.S. territories, including Guam. And those concerns continued to mount Sunday, as it was reported that North Korea had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb.

ABC News quoted Kim as saying that North Korea now has the capability for a “surprise launch of the ICBM in any region and place at any time.”

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North Korea has not yet demonstrated its missiles can reach Honolulu or the mainland. But the mere possibility that a nuclear strike could occur on Japan or Oahu means Big Island medical providers could be called into action and see a surge of patients seeking decontamination or other treatment.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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