EXCLUSIVE: X-ray machines, new security gear at State Capitol

Published: Sep. 26, 2013 at 9:53 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 24, 2013 at 5:24 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state is spending $450,000 in federal grant funds upgrading security systems at the State Capitol in what officials call a "modest upgrade."

Since Hawaii has one of the most open Capitol buildings in the country, public safety officials are trying to make it more secure without cutting off access to the public.

"We upgraded the capability of the video surveillance system.  He can actually pan, tilt, zoom.  But because it's digital, the clarity is much better," said Public Safety Department Director for Law Enforcement Shawn Tsuha showed Hawaii News Now the new video camera system that replaced an old one that was breaking down.

The state also purchased two mobile x-ray machines, costing $30,000. They will not be used regularly, but will only go into service to scan bags and packages of the public if there's a threat on lawmakers, the governor or other state officials, Tsuha said.

"If there's an elevated threat level across the country or in the state, at least we have the means to address the threat.  Right now, we don't have the means to do that," Tsuha said.

State sheriffs deputies can transport the x-ray machines to where ever they are needed for screening in rare instances of a security threat.

"We could do it for one committee hearing room, we could do it for a floor," Tsuha added.

The state also bought two large bullet-proof shields – at a cost of $21,036 -- to protect sheriff deputies while they are screening people.

"Are we every going to use that?  Probably not.  But if we needed to, it's here.  It's here to be used," Tsuha said.

Total cost: $449,842 in federal homeland security grant money for the new gear.

State Sen. Will Espero, chairman of the Senate's Public Safety committee, said, "Any time we can provide a little more security for this area and for this building, that's certainly a benefit for those who work here and for our constituents who come and visit."

Espero noted that a convicted murderer with mental problems showed up in his office Thursday morning asking for help finding a place to live.  Sources said several state lawmakers have active temporary restraining orders in effect against people who've threatened them.

Espero said the new equipment must be properly maintained, unlike a previous capitol camera system which suffered from broken cameras and other equipment because of a lack of maintenance.

"We've had our equipment fail and we didn't fix it, or we let repair and maintenance contracts lapse and not get more money to fund them," Espero said.

State officials said maintenance of the new system is included for the first year and training is also included in the price.  The state is applying for another federal grant to cover the roughly $50,000 annual cost of maintenance in the second year.

The new system also includes panic bottons on the keyboards of all computers in lawmakers' offices that set off an alarm with sheriff dispatchers if there's an immediate security problem.

At 18 employee entrances around the capitol, new electrical boxes are evident where biometric readers will be installed in the coming weeks.

"So that when you come to work on any given day, instead of using a key, you would use either a swipe card, your fingerprint or a fingerprint, swipe card both," Tsuha said.

Public entrances will not be altered and x-ray screenings will only come if there's a dangerous threat.

"Because this is the people's house, we will never ever close off the legislature entirely," Tsuha added.

Officials hope to have the entire Capitol security system installed, tested and ready to operate by the beginning of the next legislative session in January.