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Hawaii has a robust emergency siren warning system. It sat silent during the deadly wildfires

John Farley

Supporter
To me, not also activating the sirens when warnings were sent via phone alerts and media is unconscionable. It is a truism in disaster research to maximize redundancy in emergency messaging. No single method of disseminating warnings ever reaches everyone, so the more methods used, the more people are reached. And it is not a bad thing if people get warnings more than one way, because research shows that receiving multiple messages about the danger increases the likelihood of action. In this case, the phone alerts and media messages were largely useless, because cell phone systems and power went down early in the event. At least the sirens, assuming they would have worked, would have reached people that were not reached by other methods. Hawaii has one of the most extensive siren systems in the country, but what good are they if they are not activated?

Hawaii's emergency siren warning system was silent during Maui wildfires | CNN
 
A couple of additional thoughts:

1. I know sirens have fallen out of favor in some circles because they are an outdoor warning system and people often have other ways of getting warnings. But in this case, the other ways failed, so sirens were the only thing left that might have worked. But apparently, there was not even an attempt to activate them. And although they are considered an outdoor warning system, I know from experience that there are many situations where you can hear them inside if you are located close to a siren. Not a perfect system, but nothing is. They should all be used.

2. I know the state is doing a review, and I hope it is honest and pulls no punches. That said, this strikes me as another case where Mike Smith's idea of a national disaster review board makes sense.
 
The downside to sirens from talking to Hawaii residents is that they only consider them for hurricanes and tsunamis. Nobody there associates them with fires.

I'm not sure what Mike has come up with, but the EM world for many many years has toyed with the idea. It just has no way to be implemented in a way that has any teeth. What lessons would come out of this? That they need to use layers of warnings? That the fire department needs more resources? Those are lessons that get learned every time...
 
Perhaps, but when the sirens sound the first thing most people do is seek more information. I think in this case it would have been clear pretty quickly what they were for. Where I grew up in Iowa, they were mainly used for tornadoes, but when much of my town was impacted by flash flooding in the middle of the night, they blew them and it alerted people something was wrong. I turned on the radio or TV and quickly found out it was for flash flooding. Now in Maui, some of that might not have worked with the power out, but a look at the sky would have revealed what is wrong,

If you want to see what Mike has come up with, check out some of his recent posts on tornado warning issues.
 
Oh I'm not saying the sirens would have been a bad idea - certainly if they were sounded people would react - but what I'm hearing is that the decisions were made far too late to have been effective regardless of the platform.
 
Rob and Everyone,

I came up with the idea for a National Disaster Review Board (NDRB) after the multi-level fiasco involving Hurricane Sandy.
www.mikesmithenterprisesblog.com/2012/12/it-is-time-for-national-disaster-review.html

Since then, a number of others such as Bill Hooke and two groups have gotten behind the idea.

The Lahaina Fire and the serious issues with the NWS's tornado warning program are exactly the type of things that would be in the NDRB's wheelhouse. As some of you may know, there have been serious charges leveled against FEMA w/r/t Hurricane Laura and southwest Louisiana. Are they true? I have no idea, nor does anyone else. The NDRB, with its subject matter experts, would be the way to find out.

In short, the NDRB would be essentially modeled after the hugely successful NTSB. It would,
  • Investigate all major natural disasters.
  • It would have subpoena power. All participants in a particular disaster could be questioned including, say, a private weather company if they were actively involved.
  • They would keep all verification stats of NWS storm warnings. The era of the NWS investigating itself would end.
  • They would be forbidden, by law, to bring global warming into its investigations. The USA already has two global warming panels that issue reports. We do not need a third.
  • It would be located anywhere except Washington, DC. It is already hard enough to keep politics out of these things without this agency being located inside the Beltway.
Congress has authorized a number of review boards that are empowered to do investigations (did you know there is a National Chemical Review Board to investigate chemical-related accidents?). It is past time we have one for disasters.

Rep. Katie Holmes of California dropped a bill in the House to create a board to investigate all disasters, natural, manmade, etc. It hasn't gone anywhere I do not think it will as the scope is just too broad. The expertise pertaining to a mass school shooting is so different from that involving a tsunami. It would also overlap with some of the existing boards' purview.

The NTSB has no enforcement powers but, because it is so highly respected, most of its recommendations get adopted. I am hoping the same would occur with the NDRB.

If anyone has any questions, I would be pleased to answer them.

If not, I hope you will write your congressional delegation to lend your support. Writing them is quite easy using the "contact" feature of their respective web pages.
 
On the other hand - when they started to move inland they would have seen flames and smoke for sure. At that point maybe it would have clicked that it wasn't for a tsunami since their phone would have given them a WEA Fire Evacuation alert at the same time?
 
I'm happy to report that the NWS did a fine job with the Maui fires.

Dr. Cliff Mass has done an outstanding job pinning down the cause. You'll find a report on both here:
 
I'm happy to report that the NWS did a fine job with the Maui fires.

Dr. Cliff Mass has done an outstanding job pinning down the cause. You'll find a report on both here:

I agree with most of what you say here and, on the whole, with your recommendations. But I do not think you can totally take out climate change, invasive grasses, or Hurricane Dora as factors. Maui has been trending dryer for some years now, which makes it more susceptible to fires. And if you look at the graphics in the Cliff Mass piece you linked, there is a pretty widespread area of high wind between the high to the north and Hurricane Dora to the south - so the gradient created by the two was likely more than either by itself would have generated. And the grasses did add fuel. All that said, seeing the major effect on the local winds created by the mountain wave is very informative, and a good reason for greater precautions such as automated wind sensing equipment to be in places susceptible to such mountain waves.
 
Just to clarify - Hurricane Dora was WAY too small and WAY too far away to have been a factor... Notice winds decreased south of the islands.

1692205885632.png
 
Here’s an interesting take on it. Not meteorological—which, curiously, is the point. However, as a proponent of the Austrian School of Economics, Mises Institute has its own point of view.

 
Just to clarify - Hurricane Dora was WAY too small and WAY too far away to have been a factor... Notice winds decreased south of the islands.

View attachment 24265
I guess different people can look at the same picture and see different things. What I see is an area of high (not perfectly uniform, but it never is) wind between the high and low pressure centers. Classic gradient effect. And the low is Dora, so I do not see how it can be discounted as a factor. Without the high, it might not have been, but with the two together, I would call it a contributing factor. One of many, as I said.
 
Oh I see what you're saying - if it was a "classic gradient" then the winds would get stronger as they get closer to the low (Dora.) These are normal trade winds, which is why winds get weaker as they approach Dora.

Either way - I've seen too many media says "Dora's strong winds" so as long as you don't go there :)
 
Here's an idea for the sirens in Hawaii, though it would require some updating of the siren system:

Have the sirens capable of sounding a number of different tones, each for a different hazard. This would alleviate the problem of people hearing the sirens and thinking it's a tsunami when it's a wildfire.

You might say that no one would be able to remember what hazard each tone represented. Well, I have seen such a system work in the area of the Pine Bluff Arsenal, where nerve agents left over from WWII were stored for decades. Their sirens had different tones for tests, tornadoes, nerve agent leaks (except for minor leaks that were contained within concrete storage bunkers, there never were any), all-clear, and maybe one or two others. Each household was given a refrigerator magnet that detailed what hazard each tone was sounded for.
 
Some of the newer siren systems also have voice capabilities. They have upgraded to those in Edwardsville, IL where I used to live, and when I was there visiting family in January of this year there was a test, and I thought they worked pretty well. The voice clearly indicated it was just a test.
 
I've seen too many media says "Dora's strong winds" so as long as you don't go there :)

That could be another entry in the “poor media use of weather terminology” thread…

Also lots of people saying “hurricane force winds,” which were clearly nowhere near the island.

This is not just being a stickler because I’m a weather geek; precision is important when trying to understand the facts of a complex situation, and too many people repeat things they know nothing about, and propagate falsehoods and misperceptions.

There’s a lesson in there, though… It‘s easy to spot imprecision when you know something about the subject, but we are all guilty of doing the same with subjects we do not know as much about…
 
Here's an idea for the sirens in Hawaii, though it would require some updating of the siren system:

Have the sirens capable of sounding a number of different tones, each for a different hazard. This would alleviate the problem of people hearing the sirens and thinking it's a tsunami when it's a wildfire.

You might say that no one would be able to remember what hazard each tone represented. Well, I have seen such a system work in the area of the Pine Bluff Arsenal, where nerve agents left over from WWII were stored for decades. Their sirens had different tones for tests, tornadoes, nerve agent leaks (except for minor leaks that were contained within concrete storage bunkers, there never were any), all-clear, and maybe one or two others. Each household was given a refrigerator magnet that detailed what hazard each tone was sounded for.
In the case of Hawaii, their siren system is comprised of American Signal I-Force sirens that are not only capable of different distinct tones, but also pre-recorded and live public address.
 
In the case of Hawaii, their siren system is comprised of American Signal I-Force sirens that are not only capable of different distinct tones, but also pre-recorded and live public address.
Correction, they are Federal Signal Modulators albeit with the same capabilities listed above. Hopefully they will review their policies and practices
 
Just to stop this in its tracks - there is NO way we can train the public to denote different siren patterns.

The best siren tone is the up/down/up/down like a fire truck siren. But that's also what many from the cold war era grew up knowing as the nuclear attack tone...

If you need a cheatsheet to tell the different types of alert tones, that's when you know :)
 
In response to the last two comments:

1. I heard on the news a short time ago that the attorney general is turning it over to an independent review. Good news if it is really independent.

2. If it is true that the Maui sirens have voice capability, then no need to worry about modulation. And all the more reason it is appalling that apparently nobody tried to activate them.
 
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