HONOLULU (AP) — Civil defense sirens that sounded across Oahu even though there was no emergency were inadvertently activated from more than 4,000 miles away: Lincoln, Neb.
Eight outdoor sirens accidentally went off for about 20 minutes at about 5:30 a.m.
Thursday, forcing emergency management officials to quickly spread the word that there was no emergency. More than 300 sirens across the islands are used to alert the public to emergencies such as tsunamis, hurricanes and radiological disasters. Tsunami waves last struck Hawaii in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake across the Pacific in Japan last year.
Soon after the alarms sounded, officials told the public it was a malfunction. But it was later determined there was no malfunction, but that the sirens were inadvertently activated remotely by an engineer in Lincoln doing work for the company contracted to upgrade Hawaii's siren system, State Civil Defense spokeswoman Shelly Kunishige said Friday.
When the sirens sounded, numerous calls came in to police and civil defense. Officials quickly used radio, television, text messages and social media to allay any anxiety.
Illinois-based Federal Signal is working on Hawaii's modernization project, which will allow sirens to be activated via satellite or cellular network in case radio towers are down, Kunishige said. Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie recently released $3.3 million for the multiyear project that is being done in phases.
Hawaii had asked the contractor to conduct some bandwidth checks, but after doing so, Hawaii's siren protocols were not removed from the system, allowing them to be activated while the Nebraska engineer was testing a different system, Kunishige said.
Federal Signal officials did not immediately comment Friday. Kunishige said the company has assured Hawaii that steps have been taken to ensure the mistake doesn't happen again.
While Hawaii residents are familiar with the wailing sound the sirens make during monthly tests, some visitors might have been confused, especially because one of the sirens that sounded was just outside the tourist mecca Waikiki.
“We didn't hear reports of alarm among the tourist population,” Kunishige said. “Hopefully no tourists were alarmed.”
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