Honolulu County is setting out to add precautions after all Oahu sirens and one on Maui were accidentally set off during a Honolulu Police Department training exercise Wednesday. Always Investigating and learned the other counties already have several preventive measures in place.
Always Investigating found out nine different agencies are allowed to blast out emergency messages and trigger sirens: the state Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HiEMA), plus each county’s police department and emergency management department.
After the Wednesday scare involving HPD trigging sirens, we wanted to know what’s preventing a slip at the other agencies, too?
We learned they have many training precautions in place, quick false-alarm alerts implemented and other safeguards to prevent false alerts.
“For civil defense and police to trigger a siren, you have to go through some procedural steps to do it,” Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim told KHON2, “and actually you have to have authorization.”
If there is an error, Hawaii County has instant alerts teed up to notify all police districts and the public via broadcast and their emergency app saying mechanical or human error and disregard – an automated” oops” message already preprogrammed that can go out.
“That’s a system we used during the false missile alert,” Kim said, referring to the January 2018 false alert HiEMA sent out. “I think records will show we were the first island to do that.”
Not that Hawaii County doesn’t have siren malfunctions, it just happens site by site, though the usual culprit can’t be trained to be more careful.
“Believe it or not the cause for mechanical failures here are caused mainly by lizards and second is bees,” Kim said. “They crawl into the box and set off the alarm and they cross the wires.”
Both civil defense and police can automatically turn off a malfunctioning Big Island siren, or fire dispatch from the closest station will manually shut it down while the usual radio and app messages go out saying to disregard.
Hawaii County they recently changed emergency app providers, so Big Island residents should sign up for their Everbridge app at https://www.hawaiicounty.gov/departments/civil-defense/civil-defense-messages-and-alerts
Kauai Emergency Management Agency (KEMA) Administrator Elton Ushio told Always Investigating they also don’t train on workstations with active connections to sirens or emergency messaging. The only live demonstrations with staff are during monthly siren testing.
In the event of siren or emergency message errors, Kauai has set up cancellation functions on the federally tied warning system called IPAWS. It also has a county alert system called Blackboard https://countyofkauai.bbcportal.com/ with email and text messages (the county has 31,907 users registered on an island of just 72,000), and the county uses social media to quickly dispatch error messages.
“Despite all of these measures, the County of Kauai will study the Oahu HPD incident, once further details and any investigative findings are released, and we’ll use these to consider improvements to our current practices,” Ushio said.
Maui County’s spokesperson Chris Sugidono says their police and emergency departments train only in “demo” mode for IPAWS messaging, and they test siren operations timed with the usual monthly drill. Operators can shut off an errant malfunctioning siren and send a message to the public. They can recall, cancel or denote error on IPAWS messages and use their county alert system, Maka’ala, https://www.mauicounty.gov/AlertCenter.aspx to alert residents to errors; there are 8,243 people signed up for those.
“Maui Emergency Management Agency staff is working with partners on how to further prevent false activations and improve public messaging in future situations,” Sugidono said.
Honolulu County uses the HNL.info app and sign-ups can be done at https://hnl.info/. Honolulu County has 53,366 users as of today.
The following details of Kauai’s alert management protocol are provided by Kauai Emergency Management Agency (KEMA) Administrator Elton Ushio
“A) The following measures help to prevent accidental or false activations on Kauai:
1. Kauai IPAWS and siren activation training normally takes place in a classroom or workstation setting without a live connection to the IPAWS or siren activation systems.
2. Live system training for siren activation occurs only with KEMA senior staff supervision, as part of monthly outdoor warning siren testing, when we already intend to actually activate the system.
3. IPAWS EAS/WEA live system application is very limited here by current practice. Maile/Amber child abduction alerts would be the single current use by the County, as our federal partners at the National Weather Service and Pacific Tsunami Warning Center would activate the system for Tsunami Warning and severe weather warnings that merit IPAWS EAS/WEA activation, and we’d use our County’s Blackboard mass-notification system for island-wide or area-specific local public notification by landline phone (4-1-1 directory) and opt-in cellphones, text messaging and email.
B) The County of Kaua‘i would attempt to cancel erroneous IPAWS or siren activations, upon realizing than an error has taken place. We would also utilize the following:
1. Landline phone (4-1-1 directory), and opt-in cell phone, text messaging and email transmission via our Blackboard mass-notification system, currently with 31,907 contacts;
2. Posting to the County’s Facebook page;
3. Issuance of a media release to a pre-established distribution list, along with posting on the County website; and
4. Engagement via direct call to our “LP1” (Local Primary 1) IPAWS/EAS radio station group
As a further proactive measure, in whole-community public/partner/NGO outreach and education, KEMA advises that real-event activation of the outdoor warning sirens should be accompanied by more detailed messaging via IPAWS EAS/WEA alerts via TV, radio and compliant cell phones or the County’s Blackboard mass-notification system.
Despite all of these measures, the County of Kaua‘i will study the O‘ahu HPD incident, once further details and any investigative findings are released, and we’ll use these to consider improvements to our current practices.”
The following details of Maui’s alert management protocol are provided by Maui County Assistant Communications Director Chris Sugidono.
“The County’s Maui Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) closely follows the standard operating procedures and systems that are developed by Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. This includes training for proper siren activation and Emergency Alert System (EAS) use. When a siren is reported as heard outside of normal circumstances, MEMA will confirm that the siren is sounding, shut it off, and alert the public of a siren malfunction. An investigation is then launched into the cause of the malfunction which could be the result of a mechanical or technological failure, as well as possible human error. It is important to determine the exact cause in order to take the appropriate action to prevent any future malfunctions.
Test messages are completed through the IPAWS “demo” cog so as not to inadvertently send a message, and the siren system does not have a training or demo mode built into it, but the siren program is accessed on a regular basis to ensure appropriate personnel have access, complete the monthly siren test, and to poll the sirens to see that cellular/satellite communications with the sirens is working as designed.
MEMA staff is working with partners on how to further prevent false activations and improve public messaging in future situations.
MEMA reminds the public that anytime a siren is sounded go immediately to local TV, radio or emergency management messaging for details about the event. If you believe a siren may be sounding in error, call emergency management or the police non-emergency number to report the problem. The public also is encouraged to sign up for emergency notifications on Maka`ala at mauicounty.gov.”