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Honolulu rail exercise highlights emergency first responder capacity

honolulu rail HART emergency first responder
Sabrina Bodon
Honolulu Fire Department Rescue 1 team members repel down from the Honolulu Rail Transit line on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.

A three-hour, full-scale exercise put first responders to the test. During a practice drill near the East Kapolei HART station, Honolulu’s fire, emergency services and police tackled a pretend derailment.

"Rail is new to Honolulu. This is a new mode of transportation and new technology," James Ireland, the director of Honolulu Emergency Services, said during a Saturday press conference. "It has certain nuances that are unique to rail, like the powering and the elevation of the platforms, the number of passengers."

About 50 to 60 live actors and mannequins simulated injuries consistent with the activity, many needing to be transported down from the guideway platform to below emergency services.

But if this were to happen in real life, Ireland said efforts wouldn't just include city first responders.

"Even if every single EMS ambulance responded on this island, there's not enough for all those patients, so we relied on our partners who trained with us," Ireland said.

honolulu fire department honolulu rail HART
Sabrina Bodon
Honolulu firefighters practice responding to emergency situations on the Honolulu rail on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.

The Honolulu Fire Department began training firefighters how to handle emergencies on the rail back in 2020, said HFD Battalion Chief Joseph Kostiha.

"During the COVID shutdowns, we trained over 1,000 of our personnel mainly for our personnel on how to be safe on a system," Kostiha said. "The preparation that went into today's exercise is years in the making."

Fire, with four aerial ladders, handed off patients to emergency services.

"This is our first time that we actually were able to touch and feel the train and the station," Kostiha said.

These types of exercises will start happening annually, but there are quite a few more steps until then.

Currently, the system is in a trial running stage, which consists of about 144 scenarios, according to HART CEO Lori Kahikina.

"About 54% of them are done, however, those are the easier scenarios and we start building up and getting into the more difficult ones," Kahikina said.

After that, HART will begin testing system availability, which would require that during a 30-day running period the system was running at 98.5%.

"If at 30 days, we're still not at 98.5%, the time just keeps getting extended and extended," Kahikina said. "Understand, safety is paramount for us. We are not in a rush."

Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at or 808-792-8252.
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