Attempted break-in of utility box causes emergency siren to go off in Ocean View
Don Elwing was home in Ocean View on Tuesday morning when he heard what he first thought was a house alarm going off.
But he soon realized the blaring sound was coming from the 50-foot pole.
The Hawaiʻi County Outdoor Siren Warning System had malfunctioned the day after the system successfully sounded on Monday during its scheduled monthly test.
The siren was triggered on Tuesday after someone attempted to break into the utility box attached to the pole. The padlock was cut and county workers found the door ajar. Nothing was taken.
At 10:02 a.m., Hawai‘i County Civil Defense Agency issued a text alert informing residents the outdoor siren had malfunctioned twice. The siren could be heard within a half-mile radius of the pole located in Hawaiian Ocean View Estates at Reef Parkway.
Magno said residents in the area called police about the malfunctioning siren at 7:30 a.m. Hawai‘i Island police responded to the pole, shut down the alarm, and left. However, the alarm was triggered again at 8:30 a.m.
Magno said it took time to troubleshoot what went wrong with the siren and go through the process of shutting it down twice. Once they identified the issue, Magno said the alert was sent out to the public.
A police report was filed in the incident.
This is the second time someone has attempted to break into the siren’s utility box in Ocean View. When the first attempt was made more than a year ago, the county set the siren to go off in the event of another break-in.
Magno said it takes calls from the public to inform them when a siren malfunctions or is tampered with because the system does not alert Civil Defense when the sirens go off during unscheduled times. Civil Defense is not a 24-hour operation.
The Ocean View siren is one of the few sirens on Hawai‘i Island wired to go off when tampered with. For the majority of the sirens, Magno said, Civil Defense won’t know if a siren is malfunctioning or was broken into until the monthly test or unless it is reported by the public or authorities.
Magno said someone also attempted last month to break into the utility box for a siren in Hilo. Solar batteries were stolen.
Magno said the county over the past few years has seen more break-ins of the utility boxes, which are battery-powered and use a photovoltaic charging system. He described the break-ins as a crime of opportunity where solar batteries are the target. It ultimately impacts the safety of the community.
The system of 96 sirens around the island is used for both natural and human-caused events, including tsunamis, hurricanes, dam breaches, flooding, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, terrorist threats and hazardous material incidents.
“When they go off it issues an alarm and it gives community anxiety,” Magno said. “If it’s disabled, that resource to get the community’s attention no longer exists in that area.”
Magno said animals like geckos have gotten into the utility boxes, which are about 5 to 6 feet off the ground, and caused some sirens to blare.
Initially, Elwing thought the Tuesday siren was just a computer glitch, not an attempted theft because it went off in broad daylight.
With one siren costing $100,000, Magno said the whole pole can be devalued whether a battery is taken or a wire is pulled.