Darby zapped power to Oahu emergency operations center

Darby zapped power to to Oahu emergency operations center
Published: Jul. 27, 2016 at 9:28 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 27, 2016 at 10:56 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At 8:20 p.m. Sunday, Tropical Storm Darby's lightning show threw the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency in Diamond Head into the dark.

"The power went down and stayed down," Telecommunications Branch Chief George Burnett said.

Generators came on but could not transmit power because of transfer problems with a switch. Communication between the agency's computer server and the one at the city's Department of Emergency Management center was cut off.

"The server seemed to be in a limbo state and it was determined that we got to re-boot the server, it's not functioning normally," Burnett said.

And so for five to 10 minutes the agency did not have control of Oahu's 161 emergency sirens. During that window the county also did not have siren access.

First responders were put on stand-by in case of an islandwide emergency.

"In the event that we needed to deploy them we'd immediately send out the request to have our responders go out as well as communicate to the media," Emergency Management Director Melvin Kaku said.

Back at Diamond Head, a backup plan was activated.

"The agency's mobile control laptop had been sent to Hilo to wait for Darby's strike on the Big Island. The operator there took over long-distance control of Oahu's sirens, just in case." Burnett said.

"He had a push-to-talk radio. He was talking to us here at Birkhimer and he was also talking to the Department of Emergency Management."

Even without sirens, emergency alerts would have gone out through bulletins on cell phones, radio and TV.

Kaku and Burnett said both agencies learned a lesson from the power transfer problem and computer server issue. "What we're going to have is a discussion about keeping our server on perhaps a separate independent system," Kaku said.

Burnett added, "We're going to have to be more diligent and test the system and particularly verify the manual switch settings at least on a weekly basis."

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