Growing issues with emergency sirens prompt state to take action

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Emergency sirens are the first line of defense in alerting us to an emergency, but many of them are getting up there in age.

“In some cases the 1960’s or 70’s some are real old timers,” said George Burnett, telecommunications branch chief at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. “About 28 of them have failed in the last four years.”

That’s why the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is working on a plan to add new sirens.

“We realized that we needed to put together a comprehensive statewide effort to modernize a lot of the old World War Two vintage sirens,” said Burnett.

At a cost of $85,000 a siren, the state is moving from the older models to the new sirens.

The modernization plan will also add more sirens across the state.

Right now there are 356 sirens, but once the project is complete there will be 492 sirens. The sirens will be spread throughout all the Counties. The overall estimated cost is about $35 million.

“I see them all over the place and I see the new ones too and I think it is a necessary thing to have,” said Oahu resident Pal Eldredge.

The current statewide numbers are 159 in Honolulu County, 69 in Maui County, 54 in Kauai County and 74 in Hawaii County.

Once the project is complete Honolulu County will have 203, Maui County will have 103, Kauai County will have 59 and Hawaii County will have 127.

“The old ones really had quite a few issues with them,” said Burnett.

So what is the difference between the old sirens and the new sirens?

“The biggest part is getting immediate response from the sirens, reporting back to us giving us an indication that the siren is working.”

Burnett says in the past someone would actually have to tell them if the siren was not working if something went wrong. Now with a new system the sirens give feedback which keeps Burnett and his staff updated.

“In the past we did not have that unless someone complained that they did not hear the siren sound,” said Burnett.

So when will we see the project completed?

“Five years,” said Burnett. “We are building them as we speak, we are testing them as we speak so you will see them popping up on a continuing basis.”

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