BY JIM DOOLEY
Thinking the unthinkable, federal and state homeland security officials are planning measures to protect the heart of Waikiki from a potential terrorist attack, state records reveal.
The state has proposed spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grant money to establish a network of cameras and other equipment that would watch for, and record, suspicious activities at areas surounding the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel.
The Hilton has been identified as a “critical infrastructure” site by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has mandated that extra security measures be installed in “buffer zones” surrounding such sites, said Dolores Cook, state homeland security officer.
A violent terrorist attack at the Hilton could have catastrophic effects on the entire tourism industry and the economy of the state, she said.
A 2008 attack by Islamic terrorists on hotels in Mumbai, India killed 166 and injured more than 300. The terrorists, armed with automatic weapons and explosives, approached the area from the sea.
“If you look at the Hilton, it’s a city by itself almost. In any one day you can have 5,000 or more folks there in one space,” Cook said.
“Certainly the residual impact of something happening there could be devastating to the city and the state,” she said.
“If I have one hotel and something happens, does that take down the whole industry? The Hilton Hawaiian Village, it might take down the whole industry,” Cook said.
The state has had extensive talks with Hilton officials and recognizes the sensitivities that the hotel and its guests would have to surveillance of visitors enjoying themselves on the beach, Cook said.
“We’ve had many discussions with the Hilton. They don’t want the beach area part of the buffer,” said Cook.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which is paying for the protection, has told the state “you’ve got to include the beach side,” Cook continued.
“So how do we make this so we’re not imposing upon the visitors? This is a very sensitive area,” she said.
“We’ve got to find a way to make sure that we are not intrusive yet are meeting the intent of the (federal) grant and the requirements within the buffer zone,” Cook said.
Hilton officials were not immediately available for comment on the issue.
The new cameras would be linked with other buffer zone surveillance equipment that has already been installed at six other “critical infrastructure” sites around the state, Cook said.
The other sites are “all related to communications and underground cabling” and are “spread between the Big Island, Maui and Oahu,” said Cook.
That original work was performed for the state under a $1.2 million federally-funded contract that was competitively awarded in 2009 to Hawaiya Technologies, Inc., a local company that also performs other security surveillance work for the state Transportation Department.
Civil Defense has asked state procurement officials to approve a $400,000 increase to the original Hawaiya contract to pay for the new work. The request is pending.
The new money would also pay for increased camera surveillance at a Kapolei warehousing business that currently stores a “Department of Health stockpile,” Cook said, adding that she could not be more specific about the site.
Ed Texeira, vice director of state Civil Defense, said he couldn’t disclose details of that aspect of the contract.
“That is a super sensitive critical infrastructure,” Texeira said of he Kapolei location.
Cook said none of the new surveillance systems would be constantly monitored by personnel watching video screens.
Instead, the systems are equipped with “alert” technology that sounds warnings if certain activities occur, she said.
Buffer zone protections are designed “to make it difficult for terrorists to conduct surveillance or launch an attack,” the state said in its procurement request.
“Closed circuit television and intelligent video is used to detect, watch, visually track, notify, identify and record an intrusion into an area defined in advance,” the procurement request said.
“The concept is to detect any person (or object) intruding into
the buffer area, notify the monitoring station, activate the video feed, start the DVR and allow the person monitoring to control the camera and while notifying local law enforcement.”
Cook said the buffer zone cameras at the Hilton would be linked to the hotel’s own internal security system as well as to state Civil Defense and local law enforcement, said Cook.
“If something happens we will get an alert. We’re not watching these cameras 24 hours a day but we will have an alert when something has happened,” she said.
Cook said other hotels and facilities in Waikiki have been included in a “critical infrastructure cluster” earmarked for future security upgrades.
“Whether that will happen, I don’t know,” she said.