by Christine Gralow
Kailua, HI - Just twelve days after announcing its new administrator and ten weeks after terrifying the public with a false nuclear missile alert, the Hawai'i Emergency Management Agency confused residents and tourists in Windward O'ahu with an off-schedule, emergency siren test at Kailua's Kalama Beach Park yesterday.
Most Hawai'i-based news organizations that received a HI-EMA press release about the siren test also failed to publish the information online before HI-EMA began testing the siren at approximately 9:00 a.m. yesterday.
HI-EMA Public Information Officer Richard Rapoza emailed a press release regarding yesterday's Kalama Beach siren test to Hawai'i's mainstream news organizations at 2:58 p.m. Tuesday. The press release was not posted on HI-EMA's website.
KHON2 was the only news organization to post an article that was accessible to the public online before the siren testing began. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser did not publish the information online until more than one hour after HI-EMA began testing the siren. No other news organization published information about the testing that was publicly accessible via online search engines.
"We probably should have done more," said Honolulu Star-Advertiser City Desk Editor David Butts, after hearing concerns about the community's experience.
Butts said he lives near Kalama Beach Park, and his wife contacted him at work at 10:20 a.m. yesterday, confused about why she was repeatedly hearing an emergency siren sounding at the end of the month. Her confusion was shared locally by mail carriers, students, teachers, and tourists, who said they had not heard news of the testing in advance. HI-EMA typically conducts siren testing at the beginning of each month.
“I listen to KSSK every morning,” Kailua resident Denise Fleming said, “and I did not hear (radio host) Michael William Perry say one thing about this test.”
KSSK is one of HI-EMA’s official Emergency Alert System broadcasters. KSSK's news department has not yet responded to two calls seeking information about when or if the station informed the public of the Kalama Beach siren testing.
When asked if the HI-EMA press release could be found anywhere on the agency's website, Rapoza acknowledged it could not. He then checked the Twitter feed on the agency’s home page and found a tweet about the Kalama Beach siren test there. The Twitter feed appears in small print on the side of the website, next to an eye-grabbing March 12 headline about the agency’s new administrator, Retired U.S. Navy Captain Thomas Travis.
HI-EMA did post information about the Kalama Beach siren test just after 4:00 a.m. yesterday on its Facebook and Twitter (#siren) pages, but only 18 people total shared HI-EMA’s two Twitter posts, and 25 people shared the Facebook post.
There were no information signs posted about the siren test at Kalama Beach Park or in the surrounding area yesterday. An on-site HI-EMA employee announced the test via loudspeaker, but the announcement could only be heard in the parking lot and bathroom/shower area. It could not be heard from the beach. The emergency siren, however, could be heard from several miles away.
The siren was clearly heard at Kainalu Elementary School, which is one mile from Kalama Beach Park. Students and school employees were alarmed. Administrators said they were not contacted by HI-EMA about the testing. Parents and teachers called the school’s front office with questions about the siren.
In the wake of the January 13 false missile alert, and after hearing three consecutive, monthly nuclear siren tests, Hawai'i residents now associate emergency siren noise with the threat of a nuclear attack.
HI-EMA reinstated use of Hawai'i's state-wide emergency sirens for nuclear alert monthly testing on December 1, 2017. The agency abandoned use of the nuclear alert test (a wailing tone) on March 1, after public outrage and national media scrutiny of the false missile alert. HI-EMA has returned to testing only the natural disaster siren (a steady tone).
“If HI-EMA had just waited until next week (April 2) to test the siren, no one would have been confused,” Butts said.