New tsunami sirens planned for Big Island


By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

A statewide Civil Defense siren modernization program could bring as many as 15 new alarms to the Big Island next year.

The tsunami warning sirens are slated for beach parks and residential areas within the tsunami zone.

George Burnett, state Civil Defense telecommunications chief, said he is hoping to see construction begin by mid-2013, though that depends on the awarding of a contract.

A contract was expected to be awarded last month, but a bidder, Paul’s Electrical, filed a bid protest, saying the contractors selected by Civil Defense lacked the necessary licenses.

State officials have declined to comment on the bid protest while it is being resolved, and a call to the company wasn’t returned Friday.

“Initially, I was hoping we would start to see work begin in the March/April timeframe,” Burnett said. “I still expect we will see before June, see some work begin on the siren projects,” he said.

Another 36 new sirens are planned for areas outside of the tsunami zone.

Burnett said those will be added in a separate phase, possibly in 2014.

The additions — which will bring the number of sirens on the Big Island from 73 to 124 — are part of a $25.6 million upgrade to the statewide warning system.

Each existing siren will also be connected to a new activation system that relies on cellular networks and satellites rather than radio transmission; another 13 on the island will receive other upgrades.

Civil Defense administrators at the county and state level say the project will help eliminate failing sirens that have long plagued the system but became highlighted during the Oct. 27 tsunami warning.

Thirteen sirens were identified to be malfunctioning following the tsunami warning. Twelve have been repaired; a siren in Hakalau, broken by a drunken driver in January 2011, will be reactivated Dec. 28.

Burnett said it’s been typical for about 90 percent of the sirens to work at any given time. About 40 percent of the sirens are at least 25 years old, with some as old as 40 or 50 years, he said.

“Sirens that sit out in a humid, ocean, salty environment, they just start corroding, rusting and overtime, they just disintegrate,” Burnett said.

County Civil Defense tests the sirens on a monthly basis and staff have noted it’s typical for a few to fail each time.

A copy of monthly siren reports obtained by the Tribune-Herald through a public records request show that 12 sirens were listed as out of commission, meaning they require more than a quick fix, between January and September.

Another 23 were found to have failed to sound at least once.

Eight failed during the Dec. 3 test. They have since been repaired, said Ben Fuata, county Civil Defense administrator.

The Hakalau siren is the only one considered out of commission on the island. Burnett said there are eight sirens out of commission statewide.

He said the island has the most communities considered underserved by the sirens. That’s mainly due to its size and population density.

Oahu, for instance, has the most sirens with 108. It will have 233 when the project is finished.

“I think it’s primarily population based,” Burnett said, noting that sirens have a half-mile radius.

Burnett estimated the work on the Big Island to cost about $5.4 million.

State Civil Defense has $17.4 million in hand.

Burnett said that will cover the upgrades and additions within the tsunami zone.

The agency will seek about $5 million from the Legislature during the next session that begins in January.

Another $3.2 million will be sought in 2014.

Mayor Billy Kenoi will also be urging the Legislature to allocate the remaining funds.

“The state civil defense sirens are an important piece of the public safety infrastructure for our island, but the system is old, and it urgently needs to be modernized,” Kenoi said in a written statement. “We will do everything we can to support efforts by state Civil Defense to improve the system to make it more reliable, and to expand its reach to provide the best possible early warning to our residents.”

County Civil Defense also provides emergency notifications through email and text messages.

Residents can sign up for the notifications by visiting www.hawaiicounty.gov/civil-defense.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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