Monday, May 15, 2017


On July 9, 1962, Hawai`i was hit by a massive electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack, which took down the state's communications systems and traffic lights in a matter of minutes -- virtually everything that ran on electricity.

The EMP wasn't an attack by a foreign government; rather, the US government had set off a 1.4-megaton nuclear warhead at a height of 248 miles above Johnston Atoll in an operation the military named "Starfish Prime." 

The test caused radio disruptions in Hawai`i, California, and Alaska, and knocked out six satellites above the Pacific.

"No one expected the test to impact Hawai`i, because it was 850 miles away," said Toby Clairmont, deputy administrator for the Hawai`i Emergency Management Agency, which is located within one of Hawai`'s most recognizable landmarks, Diamond Head. 

"This kind of blast does not hurt people, but as we've seen, it shuts down power and phones and goes after infrastructure and could cause problems at medical facilities."

With North Korea developing its nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities, Hawai`i defense experts are concerned North Korea could target the 50th state with an EMP attack. 

Such an explosion, if executed high enough in the atmosphere, could be hundreds of miles from Hawai`i and still damage its operations and communications.
"This is not theoretical. It has already happened," said Clairmont, noting significant damage was done to both civilian and military electrical and communications systems.
The concern regarding the threat of an EMP attack on Hawai`i's electrical grid and communications systems "is real and must be taken seriously," U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawai`i, told Fox News.

"Almost every aspect of our lives is reliant on electricity, much more so than in 1962 -- everything from banking to health care to communications to automobiles -- so you can imagine the devastating impact such an attack could have," Gabbard said.

In Hawai`i, there is an added layer of risk even if the attack were not directed at Hawai`i, Gabbard said.

"If an attack occurred on the mainland and the electric grid were shut down on the West Coast, it would create a crisis in Hawai`i through the total disruption of our food and energy supply chain," Gabbard said.

Hawai`i is possibly a more desirable target than other states, warned Dean Cheng, senior research fellow with the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, in part because the headquarters for the United States Pacific Command at Camp Smith is on O`ahu, and the state has 11 military bases, including Pearl Harbor.