Honolulu Police Employee Who Triggered False Alarm Faces No Disciplinary Action

Sep 19, 2019

Hawaii Emergency Management Authority may build and maintain the state’s emergency siren system, but officials said they are not to blame for the emergency sirens that sounded by accident on Oahu and in Kahului, Maui, on Wednesday.

A Honolulu Police Department employee set off the emergency sirens during a training exercise. 

In a statement Thursday, HPD said there will be no disciplinary action taken against the employee.

There are nine places across the state from which emergency sirens can be sounded. Four of them are county police department-controlled dispatch centers.

HI-EMA stated in a release that it was appropriate for the Honolulu Police Department to train on siren activation because “County Emergency Management [and] Civil Defense Agencies—which includes Police Dispatch Centers are primarily responsible to activate the All-Hazard Outdoor Siren Warning System.”

HI-EMA Administrator Thomas Travis further explained that while his agency can activate the sirens statewide, the individual counties control them in their areas.

“The counties are users and the state is the system builder and maintainer. We also provide a backup to the counties,” he said. “If you're getting involved into why it happened or what needs to be corrected, they have to come from the county; it's not our issue.”

Honolulu should not have been able to activate Maui County’s sirens, but at least one was set off in Kahului. HI-EMA is looking into the issue.

“One siren sounded in Maui at generally the same time. We are currently investigating if there was an error in programming that may have caused that siren to sound,” Travis said. “By design, the only ones that should have sounded were on Oahu.”

Travis said that while emergency procedures and training practices differ from county to county, the software is the same.

He also said there are checks within the siren software that require the operators to confirm that they want to set off any sirens. But he said only HPD would know whether its employee confirmed the activation.

When asked whether the employee confirmed the sirens should be sounded, the department did not provide an answer.

On Wednesday, Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard said the department will be taking steps to prevent a reoccurrence of the accidental activation. She said the police training will no longer happen on live equipment. Instead, employees will train using computer screenshots.

“This was an honest mistake, and we’ve made changes so that this doesn’t happen again,” said Ballard in the department's statement. “We sincerely apologize to the public for the distress and alarm that was created.”

HI-EMA, meanwhile, will continue training on live emergency equipment, Travis said, and consider any needed changes.

“Depending on the circumstances . . . It would require design change in how we use the sirens,” Travis said. “Once we understand what happened and what [Honolulu’s] recommendation is, we'll sit down and consider those and determine what needs to be done, if anything.”