Report: 148 Places around Hawaii Lack Emergency Sirens

January 17, 2007

More than 100 spots around Hawaii, from Oahu’s Sunset Beach to Kihei Commercial Center on Maui, lack emergency sires needed to warn people about tsunami and other natural disasters.

A state Civil Defense Agency list obtained by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin says 148 extra sirens are needed to cover the gaps in Hawaii’s four counties.

Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the director of state Civil Defense, said funds released in the last legislative session were enough to accelerate installation and retrofitting of sirens.

But he acknowledged that more money is needed to end the siren shortage.

“We thought that we were pretty well along that plan that we could have coverage should an emergency occur,” he said. “I think we are taking the appropriate measures to (offer) better coverage on some of the areas where developments have sprung up.”

One reason for the shortfall is that the state hasn’t been able to install sirens as quickly as new housing developments have been cropping up.

Thus Kapolei and Ewa Gentry on Oahu still need sirens as well as Hawaiian Ocean View Estates and several other communities on the Big Island.

State civil defense spokesman Ray Lovell says sirens are also sometimes vandalized, putting them out of commission.

The agency disclosed the siren gap list in response to a public records request made by the Star-Bulletin after two large earthquakes struck off the Big Island’s Kona Coast in October.

The list calls for 47 more sirens on Oahu, 38 on Maui, 52 on the Big Island and 11 on Kauai. One siren costs as much as $75,000.

The state has appropriated $1 million annually for new sirens, but half of that money has been going to maintain the existing network, state Civil Defense officials said in October.

George Burnett, telecommunications officer at Hawaii State Civil Defense, said it will take at least 17 years to fill all the gaps in the network despite a budget increase boosting the siren allocation to $4 million and expectations annual funding will level out at $2.5 million.

Officials also want to replace about 100 existing mechanical sirens officials say rely entirely on electricity and that wouldn’t be able to sound if there is a power outage.

Those sirens need to be replaced with solar battery operated sirens.

Oahu Civil Defense spokesman John Cummings summarized the siren problem as “a money issue.”

“It’s kind of a daunting situation because all the counties need to replace their older mechanical sirens,” he said in October, “and in addition, we want to add more sirens to areas that aren’t covered. We need to increase our siren footprint.”

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