Tourism boosters say the threat is too improbable to justify a plan that could scare away travelers, but the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency believes preparations cannot wait any longer.
"We do not want to cause any undue stress for the public … but there is clear evidence that [North Korea] is trying to develop ballistic missiles that could conceivably one day reach our state," agency administrator Vern T. Miyagi said in a statement Thursday to the Honolulu Star Advertiser.
As early as November, school students will begin evacuation drills similar to those practiced for "active shooter" scenarios. The plan involves public service announcements to "get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned," the agency said.
But Charlene Chan, director of communications for the Hawaii Tourism Authority, told the newspaper the possibility of a missile attack too "remote."
"Everyone's safety in Hawaii is always our top priority … [but] this could lead to travelers and groups staying away from Hawaii," Chan told the newspaper. "The effect of such a downturn would ultimately be felt by residents who rely on tourism's success for their livelihood."
The plans recall Cold War crisis preparations on the islands, which suffered Japan's surprise 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.