UH revisits missile response plans after students went running for shelter

Published: Jan. 16, 2018 at 10:55 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 17, 2018 at 9:03 AM HST
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( Image: Hawaii News Now )
( Image: Hawaii News Now )

MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The sign that hung at the foot of a stairway at UH Manoa's Bilger Hall read "Fallout Shelter" — but there is no shelter space in the building.

That sign and a few others on the University of Hawaii at Manoa campus were taken down after Saturday's missile alert fiasco that saw many frightened students run to Bilger and other UH buildings.

Now the university is adjusting some of its disaster response strategy.

"There's a lot of lessons that the university's going to learn from what happened on Saturday and we're going to address them. One of those things is to identify spaces in buildings where people can take shelter in these types of events," UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said.

That goes for all campuses in the UH system.

"If you think about a place like the University of Hawaii it might be a good idea where you have a lot of people gathering to some places designated where people know that they can go," said Richard Rapoza, public information officer for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

In the private sector contractors expect calls from people wanting safe rooms or shelters built into their homes. Graham Builders, Inc. has reinforced houses to withstand hurricanes.

"We took a bathroom which was in the center of the house without windows," director of client care Bonnie Oda said. "We shored up the walls not only in terms of thickness but also with steel reinforcement of the walls and the ceiling."

She believes some of the same methods may also apply to building a blast shelter but there are also big differences..

"This is new territory," she said.

Based on hurricane spaces the company has built, Oda estimates a safe room could cost upwards of $20,000. Fallout shelters would be more expensive because of their size and the need to house multiple people.

In 1967 the Hilo Tribune-Herald ran a full-page advertisement for fallout shelters for homes. Back then they sold for $1,995.

There were designated fallout shelters throughout the state during the height of the Cold war. But Rapoza said the state has no plans to designate spaces as shelters where people can go in the event of a nuclear attack.

"Because we're looking at a 12-13 minute time lag, fallout shelters really don't make sense anymore. You can't go someplace. It's a matter of you should be staying in your home, someplace where you're safe," he said.

But state Rep. Matt Lopresti believes the state needs to identify fallout shelters for people.

"Whether they call them fallout shelters, or storm shelters or emergency shelters, I don't care what they call them. But they need to help identify locations that can serve as shelters," he said.

Meisenzahl said while some students ran to buildings for shelter on Saturday, many more followed the university's guidelines.

"A lot of students actually followed the instructions that were sent out in October. They sheltered in place or they went to a room where there were no windows like hallways or other areas," he said.

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