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Calif. Emergency Chief: Despite Rhetoric, No Direct Threat Of N. Korean Missile Strike

AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

People watch a TV screen showing an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivering a statement in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's speech to the United Nations, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017.

AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon

There are good reasons to be concerned over North Korea's recent nuclear tests. 

"The most recent test was the largest one to date," says Dave Schmerler, research scholar at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey.

He says the tests conducted by North Korea have involved significantly larger explosions. 

"They've also introduced multiple new missile systems, including types of missiles that have ranges capable of hitting the United States," Schmerler explains.

He points to a key unknown: whether the North Korean regime can put a bomb at the end of a missile and successfully deliver it. Schmerler says the data he's seen suggest that even if they can't, they're very close.

In his view, heedless words can escalate the situation between the two countries.

He describes President Trump's rhetoric on North Korea as "reckless."

"North Korea is very paranoid about the security and sovereignty of their state," Schmerler says.

He says that stance is a central factor behind the country's development of nuclear weapons.

"So any conversation that's going to hint at regime change risks escalating the situation."

During President Trump's first address to the United Nations earlier this month, he referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un when he said: "Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime." 

The situation is serious, notes Schmerler, but it doesn't mean the U.S. is on the brink of war with North Korea.

While the rhetorical volume is certainly focusing more attention on U.S. - North Korea relations, there is no direct, credible threat of a nuclear strike on California at this time, according to Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Office of Emergency Services

"If you're living in California, the probability of being struck by an earthquake, fire or flood is much greater than this event occurring," he says.

And, Ghilarducci adds, the brewing tension does not trigger a change in California's readiness status.

"How we respond to the impacts of a catastrophic earthquake - the kind of resources that we're going to use and different kinds of command and control structures that we'd put in place are going to be the same kind of thing we'd use if we were going have a detonation of a nuclear weapon," explains Ghilarducci.

The head of Cal OES says despite the lack of a direct, credible threat from North Korea he sees this as an opportunity for officials at the city, county and state level to check that emergency response plans are up to date and relevant.

He advises citizens to do the same by making sure they have adequate supplies and a communication plan for any major emergency, be it a natural or man-made disaster. 

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