Overhaul of Oahu’s police scanners could lead to delay in reporting of emergencies

Prior to the change, all the local news outlets could hear the calls, get confirmation of what was happening, and then notify the public.
Published: Feb. 15, 2022 at 6:08 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 16, 2022 at 1:11 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu’s emergency communications system has been upgraded, meaning scanners from all the city’s public safety departments are now shut off to everyone else.

The change was part of a $15 million overhaul that switched all the scanners from analog to digital, encrypting the frequencies.

This allows the nine city departments to communicate on a single channel.

It also means a delay in Hawaii News Now’s ability to notify the public of major events and emergencies, like freeway closures or barricades in neighborhoods.

The Honolulu Police Department switched over their last group of scanners Tuesday at 9 a.m.

Prior to the change, all the local news outlets could hear the calls, get confirmation of what was happening, and then notify thousands of people with breaking news updates, push alerts and social media posts.

“Immediate information regarding any significant public safety issue,” said Jeffrey Portnoy, an attorney at Cades Shutte who specializes in First Amendment issues.

Honolulu dispatch center
Honolulu dispatch center(Honolulu Police Department)

HPD Interim Chief Rade Vanic said months ago that they were working on an database alert system that the media can access in real-time.

But an HPD spokesperson said Tuesday that they had to abandon the idea after running into obstacles.

HPD will instead have a person in the communications section fill out a form and email it to news outlets instead if an event occurs that meets the criteria.

The Honolulu Fire Department does that, generating a one line and sometimes confusing email.

For example on Tuesday at 10:16 a.m., HFD sent this out: “F.Building at 1715 10th Ave C with E33 E07 E29 E22 L05 BN2.” Journalists have grown to understand the codes, however the severity of the situation unfolding isn’t always portrayed.

A spokesperson for HFD said that call to dispatch was at 10:13 a.m. so the vague report was three minutes later. EMS is using Google forms to notify the media of incidents, but again, there is a delay from when the call is made.

All these systems also mean a delay in getting the information out to the public.

The change has been years in the making with cities nationwide making the switch.

Hawaii News Now’s sister station in Las Vegas, KVVU, said they were provided digital scanners from their police department years ago, when the conversion was complete.

Scanners in KVVU's newsroom in Las Vegas
Scanners in KVVU's newsroom in Las Vegas(None)

The scanners allow the news outlets in Las Vegas to continue to monitor emergency situations.

HNN asked the office of Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi if a similar agreement can be done here, but we did not hear back.

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