SOUNDING THE ALARM
COURTESY TO THE STAR-BULLETIN / 1946;
Rod Mason took this photo of the 1946 Big Island tsunami as he ran from its second wave. This tsunami compelled the use of emergency sirens, below. CLICK FOR LARGE
Disaster plans show a shortage of sirens
148 areas lack the means to issue disaster warnings, says Hawaii Civil Defense
Schools, parks, harbors, shopping centers and beaches are among more than 100 places in Hawaii where additional emergency sirens are needed to properly warn residents and visitors about natural disasters such as tsunamis, according to state disaster plans.
In all, 148 extra sirens are required to cover "gap areas" in the four counties, including places like Sunset Beach and Velzyland on Oahu, Kihei Commercial Center on Maui, Wailua Golf Course on Kauai and the Big Island's Wainaku Lookout, a list prepared by the state Civil Defense agency shows.
SIREN WEAK POINTS
Here is a list of communities statewide where more emergency sirens are needed. Numbers in parentheses indicate how many additional sirens are required in one area:
41-350 Kalanianaole Highway
Kainoa Beach Park
Mililani Recreational Center 2
Yacht Club Knolls/Terrace
City of Kapolei
Halawa District Park
Enchanted Lake Elementary School
Kaena Point State Park (2)
Intersection of H-3 and Kamehameha Highway
Kalama Beach Park
Haiku Valley/Windward Community College
Hawaii Loa Ridge
Keehi Lagoon Park
Kawaikui Beach Park
Princeville and Kuhio Highway
Aliomanu and Papaa Road
Kuhio Highway and Kumukumu Beach
Waipoli Beach County Park
Wailua Golf Course
Hanamaulu Beach Park
Kawainaa Road water tank
Kalaheo No. 4
Maui Meadows, Kihei
Maui Waena Intermediate School, Kahului
Puunene Avenue and Kuihelani Highway
Kahului Beach Road
End of South Lono Avenue
Kihei Commercial Center
Lokelani Intermediate School, Kihei
Piilani Highway and Kanani Road, Kihei
Omaopio Road, Kula
Kekaulike Highway, Kula
Maukanani Road, Kula
Kaeleku and Hana Highway
War Memorial Stadium, Wailuku
Napili, West Maui
Kualapuu Park, Molokai
Puu Haulo Park, Molokai
Papohaku Beach Park, Molokai
One Alii I Park, Molokai
Kaluakoi, Molokai (2)
Kalae Picnic Area, Molokai
Kaumalapau Harbor, Lanai
Keomoku Highway and Koele Park, Lanai
Hookena, South Kona
Pepeekeo, South Hilo
Honohina, South Hilo
Kurtistown Ballpark, Puna
Prince Kuhio, South Hilo
Volcano Village, Puna
Waiakea Uka Gym, South Hilo
Lapakahi State Park, North Kohala
Honaunau Mauka, South Kohala
Hoopuloa near Milolii
Panaewa Farm Lots, South Hilo
Wainaku Lookout, South Hilo
Waikoloa Community Park
Kikaua Point Park
Kaumana Drive and Saddle Road
Old Coast Guard Road
Fern Forest Vacation Estates
Kalapana Vacation Lots
Kaimu Makena Homesteads
Black Sand Beach Subdivision
Lealani Estates 2
Eden Rock Estates
Nanawale Farm Ranch
Hawaiian Paradise Park
Hawaiian Shores Subdivision
Keeau MacNut Road
Pahoa Agricultural Park
Orchid Land Estates
Orchid Isle Estates
Pacific Paradise Gardens
Hawaiian Islands Paradise Acres
Pacific Paradise Development Subdivision
Pacific Paradise Mountain View Manor
Olaa Summer Lots
Volcano Cymbidium Acres
Hawaiian Ocean View Estates 3 and 4
Kula Kai View Estates
Source: State Civil Defense Agency
The agency disclosed its siren list in response to a public records request made by the Star-Bulletin following the Oct. 15 earthquakes off the Kona Coast.
Some communities, like Kahuku on Oahu, and Kihei and Lahaina on Maui, need more than one siren each, according to the document.
The list calls for 47 more sirens on Oahu, 38 on Maui, 52 on the Big Island and 11 on Kauai.
Several factors have led to the shortage of sirens, which were first instituted after a 1946 tsunami caused widespread destruction in Hawaii, killing 159 people in Hilo and Laupahoehoe on the Big Island.
For one, officials said the state has not been able to keep up with housing developments, which explains why sirens are needed in the emerging City of Kapolei and in Ewa Gentry on Oahu, as well as at Hawaiian Ocean View Estates and several other communities in Hawaii County.
Also, in recent years, only about $1 million has been appropriated annually for new sirens, but that ends up cut in half as $500,000 is spent every year to maintain the network, state Civil Defense officials said in October.
Though the siren budget was pushed up to $4 million in the last supplemental version -- and officials are now hoping to get a steady $2.5 million a year -- it will still take at least 17 years to complete all the work, said George Burnett, telecommunications officer at Hawaii State Civil Defense.
Finally, the sirens, which have high-tech speakers and cost as much as $75,000 each, are sometimes vandalized, said Ray Lovell, a spokesman with the agency.
The state's emergency plans came under scrutiny following the 6.7- and 6.0-magnitude earthquakes that struck off the west coast of the Big Island. The temblors led to power outages in three counties that exposed some flaws in the state's ability to disseminate information to the public.
Among them were 100 existing mechanical sirens that officials acknowledged rely entirely on electricity and would not have sounded if the quakes had been stronger and generated a tsunami.
Those sirens need to be replaced with new ones that have solar-powered batteries.
The sirens are triggered automatically if an earthquake is large enough to generate a tsunami. The strength of the Oct. 15 quakes were just below the magnitude-6.9 threshold. Following a siren blast, people are supposed to turn on their radios or TVs for updates. Information on how to respond to the sirens can be found in telephone books.
Oahu Civil Defense spokesman John Cummings summarized the siren problem as "a money issue."
"It's kind of a daunting situation because all the counties need to replace their older mechanical sirens," he said in October, "and in addition, we want to add more sirens to areas that aren't covered. We need to increase our siren footprint."
One year ago, in her inaugural 2006 State of the State speech, Gov. Linda Lingle announced a preparedness package that called for "modernizing our warning systems, stockpiling supplies" and "doubling the funds available to respond in the first hours after an emergency."
Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the director of state Civil Defense, said funds released in the last legislative session were enough to accelerate installation and retrofitting of sirens. But he acknowledged that more money is needed to end the siren shortage.
"We thought that we were pretty well along that plan that we could have coverage should an emergency occur," he said. "I think we are taking the appropriate measures to (offer) better coverage on some of the areas where developments have sprung up."
Lee said the state could benefit from federal funding after recently spending a few days with Jay Cohen, undersecretary of homeland security for science and technology, with whom he discussed Hawaii's plans to improve warnings and evacuation plans.
"He was very excited and interested in it, and would like Hawaii to be a test case for the (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security," Lee said. "We kind of got some homeland security endorsement on this."
The importance of adding sirens is among a number of recommendations prepared by the Science Advisory Working Group, which spent months studying communication glitches experienced during the earthquake, as well as the public's response to it.
The scientists will present a report to county and state Civil Defense officials by month's end, said Dan Walker, a tsunami adviser to the agency who's chairing the group. Though he said fixing the siren system is necessary, Walker said public education should top the agenda.
"One item that is glaring is the lack of education. This is the overriding issue," he said. "You can have all the bells and whistles in the world, but if the citizenry, the news media and the visitor industry don't understand what a tsunami is and what they should do in the event of a tsunami ... if they don't know that, we are in deep trouble."
Burnett, the state Civil Defense telecommunications officer, said that while it is important to set up more sirens and streamline communication channels, the public should always be prepared for a worst-case scenario.
"You got to have a battery-powered radio in your emergency kit," he said. "We are all in this together."