Schools, community evaluate escapee alert system

Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility

Whenever a potential threat to people or property occurs at any of Hawaii’s public schools, an alert system will warn staff, students and parents.

The system was activated Thursday morning when two 17-year-olds escaped from Hawaii Youth Correctional Facility.

“The main goal for school is that kids learn in a safe and uninterrupted environment, and at this point, that has been jeopardized,” said Donalyn Dela Cruz, spokesperson for the Hawaii Dept. of Education.

The escape prompted school officials Friday to call off classes at nearby Maunawili Elementary and Olomana schools.

But when it comes to the adjacent community of Olomana, Earl Walker, president of the Olomana Community Association, says more needs to be done to alert residents. There are more than 300 homes in his neighborhood.

HYCF sounds a siren whenever there is an escape–about three short blasts. Officials test the siren every month.

Walker says not everyone remembers that test date, and when a siren goes off for a real incident, there’s not much information to determine the seriousness of the situation.

“As long as I have been here, since the 1990s, they have never closed (Maunawili Elementary) for an incident,” said Walker. “So I don’t know if this serious. No one is communicating to me.”

The unknown was also on the mind of school officials. “We’re cooperating with police,” said Dela Cruz. “The first thing we want to do is to ensure the safety of our staff and students and this is a situation with a lot of unknowns at this time.”

Class was in session Friday at Le Jardin Academy, but school officials augmented security with extra personnel, in case the escapees were in the immediate area off Kapaa Quarry Rd.

“I just know from our point of view that we were confident, after talking to police, that staying open was okay,” said Academy headmaster Lou Young.

Still, long-time residents in the Olomana neighborhood say this is the first time they’ve heard that Maunawili Elementary was completely shut down in the wake of an escape.

KHON2 asked Walker whether officials need to better alert him about incidents in his neighborhood and what the protocol should be.

“That would be a good idea,” said Walker. “They can call me directly because I have access to notifying neighbors immediately of what’s going on.” Walker says he previously set up an email system for the community and can also call on the neighborhood security watch.

When the siren goes off at HYCF, “usually we lock our doors,” said Walker. “The people who know what the alarm means will lock their doors. A lot of times, they will call me and I tell them there’s been a breakout and to lock down.”

HYCF says besides sounding the siren, the protocol when alerting the community is to call on law enforcement. A police spokesperson says the priority for responding officers is to search for the escapees for the safety and security of residents.

This is the first escape from HYCF this year.

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