Wednesday | November 22, 2017
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Repairs under way for silent sirens

Repairs on 13 Civil Defense warning sirens that malfunctioned during Thursday morning’s monthly test are under way, Police Chief Harry Kubojiri said early Friday evening.

“The mayor had given us the authority to start fixing these things immediately,” Kubojiri said. “I had everybody on the ground and, I still have state Civil Defense here. … They’re working on sirens. I have my radio shop working on sirens.”

Kubojiri said “a whole bunch” of the malfunctioning sirens have already been repaired.

“You have to realize that a whole bunch of the sirens were manufactured in the 1960s,” he said. “Some of them are more recent. We are scrambling for parts to repair the older ones. Like anything else, nothing lasts forever. And it’s a good opportunity to fix ’em all up. It’s my understanding that the state is in the process of upgrading all the sirens statewide. But we can’t realize the benefits until probably two to four years before all the sirens are upgraded.”

According to a written statement from the Hawaii Police Department on Thursday evening, the sirens that did not sound at all or did not sound properly during the 11:45 a.m. monthly test were located at Kawailani Street in Hilo, Papaikou, Paauilo, Ookala, Hakalau, Laupahoehoe Point Park, Honokaa, Waiaka, Puako, Kamehameha Park, Kahaluu Beach Park, Napoopoo and on Makuu Drive in Hawaiian Paradise Park.

The sirens had become a concern during Saturday night’s tsunami warning, which came shortly before 7:30 p.m., several hours after a magnitude-7.7 earthquake rocked Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia. A number of East Hawaii sirens were not sounded until 9:10 p.m., including sirens in Hilo neighborhoods, including Keaukaha. Kenoi had said Saturday night that those sirens did not sound automatically when the alarm was sounded and had to be operated manually.

One siren, Kubojiri said, that could not be repaired is one on Chin Chuck Road in Hakalau, which was damaged several months ago when a car hit the pole the siren was on. He added that the pole would have to be replaced as well.

Kubojiri said that a radio signal triggered by police radio repair personnel caused alarms across the island to blare without warning at 3:10 p.m. on Thursday afternoon.

“I’ll take responsibility for that,” the chief said. “You have to understand how the sirens work. You can’t just have a technician with a meter at each siren checking electrical currents to see if it’s gonna work. A radio signal has to be sent on VHF (very high frequency) to activate them.”

There had been no prior notification to the media or public about the possibility of alarms sounding on Thursday afternoon, although police sent out email and text message notifications via their Nixle alert system at 3:19 p.m., nine minutes after the sirens sounded, to notify the public that there was no Civil Defense emergency.

“Could it have been done better by doing the Nixle first? Yes,” Kubojiri said.

Kubojiri said that the repairs, as well as last Saturday night’s tsunami evacuation are part of a “team effort” involving police, fire and county and state Civil Defense personnel, and added that he is “very proud” of everyone who has aided in both the evacuation and the alarm repair efforts.

“The bottom line is that we are very, very fortunate that there was no loss of life and that nobody was injured, but we still have to be vigilant,” he said.

Meanwhile, a 28-year-old Hilo man has been arrested on suspicion of committing at least one of the eight residential burglaries in Keaukaha that police say occurred while residents of the coastal neighborhood were evacuated from their homes during the tsunami warning.

On Thursday afternoon, police arrested a man on suspicion of burglary of a dwelling during a Civil Defense emergency, a Class A felony which carries a possible 20-year prison term. The suspect had not been charged with the burglary as of late Friday afternoon, said Capt. Robert Wagner of South Hilo Patrol.

“He was arrested on a warrant for an unrelated charge,” Wagner said. He said that Ahuna was “in possession of items that match up with items taken during the burglary of at least one of the residences there (in Keaukaha).”

The suspect was charged Thursday with contempt of court.

He was also arrested on suspicion of third-degree promotion of a dangerous drug and possessing drug paraphernalia. He had not been charged with those offenses as of late Friday afternoon.

The suspect has five prior criminal convictions, but none for felonies. In July, police issued a bulletin notifying the public that Ahuna was wanted for questioning in a theft investigation. He has not, to date, been charged with that theft.

Asked if police knew of other suspects or persons of interest in the Keaukaha burglaries, Wagner replied: “We are looking into other leads at this point. Right now, our investigation is focused on the individual we have in custody.”