HONOLULU — The administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is concerned about complaints that a recent test of an attack warning siren could barely be heard in tourist mecca Waikiki.
The sirens largely were drowned out by crashing waves and wind along Waikiki during last week’s test of a Cold War-era siren Hawaii re-introduced amid threat of a North Korea nuclear attack. Beachgoers hardly noticed the test, which sounded like a distant siren.
“That’s a concern,” said Vern Miyagi, agency administrator, adding that officials are looking at moving or repositioning sirens to make them more audible. “When you rely on an outdoor siren sound, it can be masked by ambient sound and all kinds of other sound.”
One lesson learned was that officials need to better communicate the test to tourists in various languages, Miyagi said.
There were other parts of the state that reported difficulty hearing the siren. Specifics about sirens that malfunctioned or were hard to hear will be available when the agency completes its report, which Miyagi expects around mid-month.
“My wife in Kalama Valley couldn’t hear it,” he said referring to his east Honolulu neighborhood. “That complaint was not uncommon.”
Miyagi stressed that the siren is only one part of the emergency notification system. In an emergency that would require sounding the siren, there would also be alerts on smartphones and messages broadcast on TV and radio, he said.
The wailing siren, which Hawaii hasn’t heard since the end of the Cold War, sounded for about a minute last week, after a routine test of a siren used to alert people about natural disasters such as a tsunami.
The agency is gathering reports from Hawaii’s counties, along with information from volunteers who listened, Miyagi said.
This month’s test generated more complaints than the usual test of the natural disaster siren, partly because of all the media attention leading up it.
“Everybody was listening for it this time,” Miyagi said. “Prior to this I would be lying to you if I said everybody stood at their homes … and listened acutely for the monthly tones.”
The North Korea threat comes as Hawaii is upgrading its siren system, by repairing some and adding more. When done, the 384 sirens statewide will increase to 495, Miyagi said.
A major goal of the test was successful, Miyagi said: Ensuring that the siren can be activated statewide from a single button in an emergency operations center in Honolulu.