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False Alarm Sirens Must Be Fixed

I imagine every state has a sound that strikes fear into its residents’ hearts. No words have to be spoken, just the sound alone alerts every living thing that something terrible is about to happen.

In Hawaii, it is the wailing of the civil defense siren. This is no small matter. Over the years the public has been trained to respect those wailing sirens. It’s never a joke and always takes precedence over anything happening in the state at the moment. It has earned credibility with the public.

The civil defense siren sends a simple message:

Something life-threatening is brewing, so turn on your radio or television. Stop what you are doing immediately and listen to the civil defense broadcast for instructions.

On June 15 at 5:15 a.m., Oahu got a shocking wakeup call from the outdoor warning sirens. As it turns out, eight sirens in the state were triggered by mistake, jolting residents in Waimanalo, Diamond Head, Kamiloiki, Makiki, McCully and Moanalua Valley.

Civil defense officials apologized for the inconvenience and said they would institute protocols to keep the siren malfunction from happening again.

Problem is, the sirens were triggered by mistake from a location in Nebraska, not Hawaii.

When you consider the magnitude of the mistake, it’s unnerving how someone out of state could push a button and send Oahu into emergency mode.

A couple of things happen as a result of a error like this. You could call it “sunk cost” because you have no way of knowing how much the mistake cost in dollars and cents, and the damage is irretrievable.

Said another way, the credibility of the system was compromised. The next time the sirens go off, will the residents pay attention and take the appropriate action, or will they think it’s probably another false alarm? How many times can a system cry wolf before nobody listens?

Civil defense officials say they’ve instituted protocols to avoid another malfunction. That’s good, but there should be some provisions for someone from Hawaii being included in the protocol to decide if and when the button is pushed.

Why should someone from Nebraska be pushing our buttons?

It’s taken a long time for Hawaii to predict weather and severe storms for our Pacific neighbors. Forecasting has improved to a very respectable level, where all of our neighbors have great confidence in Hawaii alerting them in civil emergencies.

It also is important to point out there are many different kinds of emergencies signaled by the sirens.

There is a possibility that we are witnessing a power struggle over who has the right and responsibility to push the button that makes the sirens send their message.

Is it a county, state or federal agency’s responsibility?

In Hawaii, pushing the button in emergencies should be a primary concern of civil defense officials, not some maintenence company in Nebraska.