Public wondering about road closures, sirens

Our traffic situation here on Kauai is terrible and sometimes it is compounded by police officers closing down the entire road for hours at a time because of a traffic accident. What gives?

Fred, Lihue

Chief Perry:

Thank you Fred. Although you didn’t provide specific information about an incident, I will suppose that you are referring in general to serious traffic collisions.

This has been an on-going concern and I would venture to say that most jurisdictions are wrestling with the same issue. Early in my career I was a supervisor of a vehicle homicide team in Honolulu. Basically, the reason why roads are shutdown is to do a complete and thorough investigation. When these cases involve death or very serious bodily injury, police are mandated to treat the area as a crime scene. And as you know, these types of cases may be confined to a specific location, or stretch out for several miles (the longest crime scene I remember was about 6 miles long).

I will not bore you with the complexities that are essential for this type of investigation, but I will tell you that our officers are highly trained in vehicle dynamics, accident reconstruction, crush analysis, recognizing induced versus contact damages, scale diagrams of the scene, speed calculations by determining coefficient of friction on the road surface, and the rest, not to mention information required of the injured parties, deceased person(s), witnesses, and suspect(s).

In all cases, the victims and their families rely on the police to bring individuals who are responsible to justice. And frankly, they deserve nothing less because we, the police, are speaking for the victim, whose voice was silenced through someone’s negligence.

Our investigators are very aware of the need to reopen the roadways as soon as possible and I can assure you that they are doing their very best to expedite the investigation. In addition, we continually explore more efficient methods to speed up the process so that the inconvenience to the public is minimized.

The last thing I would want to do is to explain to the victim’s family that the reason for doing an incomplete investigation is because we had to reopen the crime scene prematurely. I know that you would agree with me, that on top of the grief the family is already experiencing, we, as a community, do not want to add a second injury.

Do the sirens have to be quite so loud to be effective?

The peace and tranquility of our environment (the reason we moved here) is regularly interrupted by screaming sirens that seem loud enough to be heard from one end of the island to the other. I travel regularly, and I never notice sirens the way I do here.

Also, perhaps because it is so quiet here, we hear them for a long time as they travel from one place to the other. It puts everybody on edge — the length plus the volume make it sound like something horrible is happening — several times a day.

I’m sure it doesn’t do much to enhance the tourists’ experience — I’ve heard people say they hear more sirens here than they do on the Mainland, when it seems the converse should be true.

I appreciate your answer as I have wondered about this for years.

Debra, Princeville

Chief Perry:

Thank you Debra, that’s a great question. I can tell you that it has to do with national requirements/standards for “emergency vehicles” that include ambulance, fire, and police. To be on “emergency” status as required by statutes, the vehicle in question has to activate both lights (blue or red) AND its siren. If one or the other is not activated, then it is not considered an “emergency” vehicle, and may be liable should a collision with another vehicle or pedestrian take place.

In rural areas where it’s peaceful and tranquil, such as the North Shore, the siren may seem to be amplified, but in reality, it is not. It would be nice to lower the audible level, but emergency vehicles would be in violation of OSHA and other statutory standards.

As for the Kauai Police Department, the blue lights and siren are utilized in emergency situations such as assaults in progress, domestic violence, robberies, serious motor vehicle collisions, and the like. My understanding with respect to KFD and ambulance is that the sirens and lights are activated in similar situations and that it is a matter of policy.

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