By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
As many as 10 “top priority” emergency warning sirens may be upgraded or installed on the Big Island by the end of the year.
Hawaii Civil Defense is embarking on a statewide $25.6 million siren modernization program that is expecting to make the system more reliable.
Additional sirens, which are used primarily to alert residents of a tsunami danger, are also being added to expand the warning system’s reach.
In Hawaii County, the number of sirens is expected to increase by 51, bringing the total number to 124, according to the state.
To begin the project, the state is asking each county to identify 10 priority locations for new or upgraded sirens, which will be addressed first.
County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira said his proposed list includes areas of Puna, Kona, South Kohala and Hilo.
He declined to give the specific locations since they may change.
George Burnett, state Civil Defense telecommunications officer, said work orders could be issued in September, with replacement and upgrades occurring over the following three to four months.
The project is about 87 percent funded, and it’s expected to be mostly complete by the end of next year.
An additional $3.4 million needs to be funded. That money will be sought from the state Legislature for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, Burnett said.
As a result of the project, each existing siren will receive a new activation system that relies on cellular and satellite networks rather than radio transmissions.
Another 13 on the island will receive other upgrades, such as solar power, composite poles and more modern sirens.
The current system has been plagued by failing sirens, demonstrated during a tsunami warning last October as well as during monthly tests.
Thirteen sirens failed during the warning.
Earlier this month, a test of the system found 18 of the island’s sirens to have failed.
The system will be tested again at 11:45 a.m. today.
Oliveira said the new system will reduce problems with activation.
“Until then we could still experience some issues,” he said.
“Things are moving in the right or better direction,” Oliveira added.
“It will take some time to upgrade or renovate the system.”
Burnett said some sirens may be down for up to a month while they are being replaced or upgraded.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.