Agency con­cerned over in­audi­ble ‘at­tack’ sirens in Waikiki

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - LOCAL - By Jen­nifer Sinco Kelle­her

The ad­min­is­tra­tor of the Hawaii Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency is con­cerned about com­plaints that a re­cent test of an at­tack warn­ing siren could barely be heard in tourist mecca Waikiki.

The sirens largely were drowned out by crash­ing waves and wind along Waikiki dur­ing last week’s test of a Cold War-era siren Hawaii re-in­tro­duced amid threat of a North Korea nu­clear at­tack. Beach­go­ers hardly no­ticed the test, which sounded like a dis­tant siren.

“That’s a con­cern,” said Vern Miyagi, agency ad­min­is­tra­tor, adding that of­fi­cials are look­ing at mov­ing or repo­si­tion­ing sirens to make them more au­di­ble. “When you rely on an out­door siren sound, it can be masked by am­bi­ent sound and all kinds of other sound.”

One les­son learned was that of­fi­cials need to bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate the test to tourists in var­i­ous lan­guages, Miyagi said.

There were other parts of the state that re­ported dif­fi­culty hear­ing the siren. Specifics about sirens that mal­func­tioned or were hard to hear will be avail­able when the agency com­pletes its re­port, which Miyagi ex­pects around mid­month.

“My wife in Kalama Val­ley couldn’t hear it,” he said re­fer­ring to his east Honolulu neigh­bor­hood. “That com­plaint was not un­com­mon.”

Miyagi stressed that the siren is only one part of the emer­gency no­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem. In an emer­gency that would re­quire sound­ing the siren, there would also be alerts on smart­phones and mes­sages broad­cast on TV and radio, he said.

The wail­ing siren, which Hawaii hasn’t heard since the end of the Cold War, sounded for about a minute last week, af­ter a rou­tine test of a siren used to alert peo­ple about nat­u­ral dis­as­ters such as a tsunami.

The agency is gath­er­ing re­ports from Hawaii’s coun­ties, along with in­for­ma­tion from vol­un­teers who lis­tened, Miyagi said.

This month’s test gen­er­ated more com­plaints than the usual test of the nat­u­ral dis­as­ter siren, partly be­cause of all the me­dia at­ten­tion lead­ing up it.

“Ev­ery­body was lis­ten­ing for it this time,” Miyagi said. “Prior to this I would be ly­ing to you if I said ev­ery­body stood at their homes … and lis­tened acutely for the monthly tones.”

The North Korea threat comes as Hawaii is up­grad­ing its siren sys­tem, by re­pair­ing some and adding more. When done, the

384 sirens statewide will in­crease to 495, Miyagi said.

A ma­jor goal of the test was suc­cess­ful, Miyagi said: En­sur­ing the siren can be ac­ti­vated statewide from a sin­gle but­ton in an emer­gency op­er­a­tions cen­ter in Honolulu.


Vern Miyagi ———

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