After the sirens, what?

While we now know there are flaws in the warning system for a missile attack on Hawaii, we need to have a separate discussion concerning the flaws in how the public is supposed to respond.

We are told to “shelter in place,” run to the nearest building, then wait two or three days, or as many as two weeks, before the fallout settles and radioactivity levels drop.

While we were developing special siren sounds, we didn’t think through what this entails.

Oahu as late as the 1990s had hundreds of designated shelters, some with medical supplies and food, according to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. When the Cold War ended there was no threat, so funding ran out. Flickr: Ian Weddell

Humans can survive up to three weeks without food, but we need a half-gallon to a gallon of water per day per person, more when it is hot. Without it we may last anywhere from two to seven days.

So if we take shelter, it has to be in a place that has up to 14 gallons of water per person if we are to shelter for two weeks.

Otherwise we are going to have to emerge into what may be a very “hot” environment, trading off the risk of radiation sickness for the more immediate certainty of dying of dehydration.

What About Parents And Kids?

Parents are unlikely to shelter in place if separated from their children in school, especially if they know that schools have no stocks of food and water. Come what may, families will want to face things together.

The state has no more fallout shelters. We thought we didn’t need them anymore. They are regarded as antiquated and it is now up to each family to have a two-week supply of food and water to survive.

The state has no more fallout shelters. We thought we didn’t need them anymore.

But the reality is that our kids go to school and we go to work and a survival cache back at home won’t do much good if the sirens go off, we aren’t home and we can’t get back.

So we can either ignore the problem or mandate that schools and businesses, as well as families, must stock the resources for survival for sheltering in place.

With the old fallout shelter model, stocking and maintaining a survival cache was a state responsibility.


More likely we will just kick the can down the road, until the next time “this is not a drill” and we have 15 minutes to figure out our future.

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About the Author

  • David Duffy
    David Duffy runs the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit and is a professor in the Botany Department at the University of Hawaii Manoa. He has worked on the ecology of diseases including Lyme Disease, avian flu, and avian malaria in such places as Peru, Alaska, southern Africa, eastern Long Island, southern Africa and here in Hawaii. He received his Ph.D. in population biology from Princeton University.