Sunday, March 26, 2023|
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The Army Explosives Ordnance Disposal Team unpacks their equipment to address a suspicious package found at the King Kamehameha Mall in 2016 (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today file photo)
KAILUA-KONA — Hawaii County is set to have its own bomb squad and vehicle stationed on the island.
The state recently awarded a $306,947 contract to Rainbow Chevrolet to provide three bomb squad vehicles, one each for Hawaii, Kauai and Maui counties. Specifications require the vehicle to be a commercial cutaway van 4500 with a 6-liter V8 gas engine, among many others.
Funding is via the federal Homeland Security Grant Program. Monies from grant years 2016 and 2017 totaling more than $7.4 million are being used to establish the three neighbor island bomb squads and purchase equipment.
Once the contract is signed and executed and a notice to proceed issued, Oahu-based Rainbow Chevrolet will have 300 days to deliver the vehicles.
The process to secure bomb squads and vehicles for the outer islands got rolling several years back when a survey was conducted among Hawaii, Maui and Kauai counties and submitted to the FBI Hazardous Devices School and National Bomb Squad Commander Advisory Board through the Honolulu office of the FBI, officials with the State of Hawaii Office of Homeland Security said.
“Based on the bomb squad survey need conducted, it was determined that a bomb squad response capability was needed for the provision of public and officer safety at Hawaii, Maui and Kauai counties,” the office said in an emailed response to inquiries.
The current procedure for addressing suspicious items or possible explosive devices found on Hawaii Island requires a request through the U.S. Army’s 6th or 9th Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team out of Oahu. The request typically goes through the state Emergency Management Agency for the EOD units, though police also have relationships with the teams where they can request assistance, according to the office.
After flying to the island, the team typically travels to Pohakuloa Training Area to pick up equipment before heading to the scene.
In years past, this has resulted in hours-long closures of major thoroughfares and businesses in Kailua-Kona, as well as other areas including Waimea and Hilo.
In 2016, a suspicious device found at King Kamehameha Mall closed an area including Kuakini Highway between Palani Road and Kaiwi Street from 7:30 a.m. until about 5 p.m. when the all clear was given by the EOD team. In 2009, a suspicious package with a threatening note inscribed upon it found in the Kailua-Kona Walmart parking lot closed Henry Street and Walmart from shortly before 11 a.m. until sometime after 6 p.m.
Now, a bomb squad vehicle will be stationed on Hawaii, Maui and Kauai islands. The vehicles will be used to transport a local team and the appropriate explosive disposal equipment that’s required to mitigate a situation.
“The bomb team will have a basic list of equipment to support their operations — a small robot, EOD bomb suits, personal protective equipment, explosive magazine storage, monitoring/scanning equipment, etc.,” according to the state Office of Homeland Security.
Each county police department has identified two personnel for their bomb squad, officials said. Each member will complete bomb technician training at the FBI Hazardous Devices School in Huntsville, Alabama, as well as several HAZMAT trainings in order to be certified.
“To support county teams, there will be continued training through the FBI and consolidated training with Oahu Bomb Squad. We also hope they include military and other trainings that will help mature our Neighbor Island Bomb Squad Teams,” the state Office of Homeland Security said. Upon each team completing the necessary training procedures, processes will be incorporated into internal county procedures. The teams will be responsible for all matters relative to explosive materials, incendiary devices, improvised devices, and military or civilian ordnance in their area of responsibility.
The state Office of Homeland Security added that the counties can still request support from outside their county area if such assistance is necessary.
Attempts to reach Police Chief Paul Ferreira regarding Hawaii County’s team were unsuccessful as of press time on Friday.
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