By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
An unscheduled tsunami siren activation Thursday afternoon caught the public and Civil Defense off guard.
The alarms blared across the island at 3:10 p.m. without warning, more than three hours after the scheduled test at 11:45 a.m.
The Hawaii County Police Department announced 10 minutes later that there was no danger and that it had activated the sirens as part of ongoing tests.
Police Chief Harry Kubojiri and Assistant Chief Marshall Kanehailua couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
Phones were ringing off the hook at Civil Defense’s Hilo office within minutes, a reporter observed, with callers wondering if it was a repeat of Saturday’s tsunami warning that led to statewide evacuations.
Staff were unable to give many details to callers except that there wasn’t an emergency.
“They’re still investigating that,” one caller was told.
“It may have been a malfunction,” another was informed.
Civil Defense Administrator Benedict Fuata said he wasn’t informed of the second activation beforehand even though he was in a meeting with Kubojiri when it occurred.
Fuata said police told him it was part of the day’s test.
Asked if it could have been a malfunction, he said, “I don’t know. I just know once we heard, we had to make sure we did our end of the bargain and make sure: No. 1, we validate there was no emergency, and No. 2, we put the word out immediately.”
Fuata said that was done successfully with messages going out through its mass notification system, which includes email and text messages.
Thursday’s test was already receiving a higher level of scrutiny after several sirens failed to activate on time during Saturday’s tsunami warning.
Fuata said the test found 13 of the 71 sirens to not be working properly, up from earlier estimates of 10. A total of 40 sirens failed statewide on Saturday, according to police. The sirens that didn’t sound or didn’t sound properly were located in Hilo, Papaikou, Paauilo, Ookala, Hakalau, Laupahoehoe Point Park, Honokaa, Waiaka, Puako, Kamehameha Park, Kahaluu Beach Park, Napoopoo and Makuu Avenue in Hawaiian Paradise Park.
Today, state Civil Defense and county personnel will assess why they are failing and Mayor Billy Kenoi authorized immediate repairs. Repairs will be expedited, Fuata said.
“We are very committed to working to resolve this issue,” Fuata said.
The sirens are tested at 11:45 a.m. on the first working day of each month.
Police announced the Thursday morning test beforehand but made no mention of a second test that afternoon.
The sirens are owned by state Civil Defense but managed jointly by county Civil Defense and police.
State Civil Defense technicians conducted maintenance last week on 11 sirens on the island, police said.
At that time, all but the one at Laupahoehoe Point were deemed functional, according to police.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.