State begins work to boost warning sirens
Dec 04, 2012 (The Honolulu Star-Advertiser - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A major overhaul of the state's siren network, designed to bolster the trustworthiness of the emergency warning system, began several weeks ago when alarms blared in neighborhoods across the islands above and beyond the usual monthly tests.
The recent series of field tests is now complete, kicking off Hawaii State Civil Defense's estimated $20 million refitting of the siren system. The department has $16.4 million appropriated for the effort and is asking the state Legislature for an additional $5 million to complete the project.
In the coming months, residents can expect to see new sirens that look like discs stacked on green poles that are designed to fortify Civil Defense's warning capabilities and help the agency more easily identify devices that aren't working.
The state has 371 sirens statewide, about 40 percent of which are "beyond their useful life cycle," said George Burnett, Civil Defense communications branch chief.
"The result is that on a day-to-day basis and on a month-to-month basis, more and more sirens are beginning to fail and not sound correctly," Burnett said.
That's part of the reason why reports came in from several islands about malfunctioning sirens on the night of the Oct. 27 tsunami warning.
Between Oct. 17 and Nov. 1, nine sirens were out, and 34 other sirens did not sound, Civil Defense officials said.
The upgrade project has several components:
--Replacing 125 outdated and malfunctioning sirens of 371 statewide
--Adding 146 new sirens in more areas
--Upgrading the communication systems on all Oahu sirens to meet a federal mandate
Some of the sirens that need to be replaced are between 25 to 40 years old, Burnett said.
The metal parts on some of them have corroded and rusted.
"The metal frames that hold these things together just start breaking apart, and in some cases, pieces started dropping off the siren and they just stopped working," he said.
To make matters worse, the technology is so old it's difficult to find replacement parts, Burnett said.
The new, omnidirectional sirens require fewer motorized parts than the old bullhorn and multispeaker models.
Other sirens need to be replaced because wooden poles holding them have become infested with termites and begun to disintegrate. New poles are more weather-resistant, made of a composite of fiberglass and resins, Burnett said.
As for the new sirens, they cost about $85,000 each and are scattered throughout the state in areas officials identified as most in need. Construction, however, has been held up due to a bid protest.
The recent series of tests on Oahu verified the status of the 19 sirens that malfunctioned recently and others that have had problems or public reports of problems, Burnett said.
Upgrading control and communications components on all sirens to modern standards is a federal mandate and is actually the first part of the project. Conversions began in August and are expected to be completed later this month.
The new technology allows officials to test whether a siren sounded through both satellite and cellular modems, he said. That redundancy also allows the state a second way of trying to resound the siren, he said.
"It's a very robust and redundant capability that we've never had," Burnett said. "Part of the problem with the old system is the only way we know whether a siren went off is if someone was standing next to the siren," he said.
The recent series of field tests also allowed Civil Defense to survey the capabilities of the new communications system, he said.
At this point, malfunctioning sirens have been repaired and tested, Burnett said.
"We're probably going to cut back a little bit on how much field testing we're doing and verify those statuses during regular monthly tests," he said.
There may, however, be some spot-testing of sirens in neighborhoods as needed, he said.
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