High alert


POSTED: Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hawaii was under siege yesterday when 13 al-Qaida-backed terrorists killed seven people after setting off explosions at two Waikiki hotels, the state Capitol, Honolulu Airport and the Coast Guard cutter Rush anchored at Sand Island.

Their target apparently was Gov. Linda Lingle, who escaped without any injuries in a well-coordinated attack that included snipers at McKinley High School and Ala Moana Center.

Emergency rooms at hospitals statewide also were swamped with people panicked by Internet reports of an outbreak of the swine flu—the work of terrorist computer hackers working in the Philippines.

However, the bombings, shootings, deaths and cyberattacks never occurred.

It was part of an elaborate community response exercise yesterday at the closing day of the seventh Asia-Pacific Homeland Security Summit and Exposition at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel.

Edward Teixeira, vice director of the state Civil Defense, said this was the fourth exercise held in conjunction with the summit and was designed “;to generate public participation.”;

More than 250 people participated in the three-hour exercise—using pre-made tapes and recordings to set the stage for the declaration by Lingle elevating Hawaii's security threat level from “;yellow”; to “;black,”; indicating that the state was under attack—at 9:45 a.m., when real-time responses were made by emergency workers.

The threat began with reports of an explosion at the Hawaii Prince Hotel at 8:55 a.m., followed by another explosion and shots in the basement of the state Capitol.

Air traffic controllers at Honolulu Airport lost power a few minutes later. Then a small fishing boat rammed the cutter Rush at its Coast Guard berth. Another explosion was reported at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and snipers were seen shooting at people at Ala Moana Center and McKinley High School.

To add to the realism, a morning radio show on station “;KHNN”; broke in with reports from a caller at the state Capitol who saw the shooting.

Then there were television news reports from “;Hawaii News Network,”; anchored by former KHNL reporters Diane Ako and Paul Drewes.

Participants—ranging from first responders, business leaders, educators and the military—were asked by Teixeira to respond to the incidents.

A Bank of Hawaii representative said his financial institution would immediately go into “;lockdown.”;

A private-school leader said all island schools have a similar lockdown policy and would immediately begin to account for their pupils, expecting that parents would soon arrive to pick them up.

A University of Hawaii official said one of its challenges would be locking down all of its buildings and alerting its 20,000 students.

Capt. Barry Compagnoni, Coast Guard captain of the Port of Honolulu, said all port operations would be shut down as the Coast Guard worked to assess the threat, defeat it, stabilize the situation and protect critical infrastructure.

Honolulu Assistant Police Chief Kevin Lima acknowledged that its “;system would be highly taxed”; since its officers would respond to any bombing or shooting incidents and would also be called upon to protect water supplies and electrical power plants until relieved by the National Guard.