Drones equipped with loud speakers began spreading the message at three Oahu beaches Friday to follow the mayor’s stay-at-home/work-from-home order and the governor’s emergency proclamations to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Honolulu Fire Department drone teams conducted flights between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at Waikiki Beach, Lanikai Beach and Sandy Beach and will continue the use of drones around the island throughout the Easter weekend, according to a news release.
The simple message being broadcast to beachgoers — in a calm, male voice — is loud and clear: “Aloha, the stay-at-home order is in effect. Water activities are permitted, but please leave immediately after.”
The city said the drones are not equipped with video-recording devices, simply public-address capabilities. The Maui Police Department announced announced Tuesday it was also using drones to advise beachgoers not to linger.
HFD Capt. Jeff Roache said the airborne messengers might have startled people Friday because no prior announcement was made about the effort. “If they see a drone, they don’t know what agency it is from,” he said.
The unmanned aerial vehicles have no distinguishing markings, he said, and even if they did, they would be too small to see from the ground. The only way people would know who’s operating the drones is if they ask fire personnel on the beach, he said.
While the drones are in the air, Honolulu Police Department personnel on foot and all-terrain vehicles will be making a concerted effort to keep the public from gathering on the beach and in parks, which are closed.
At Lanikai Beach, where the city closed off all parking along the roadways to keep crowds at bay, police officers on all-terrain vehicles said the drones had been there earlier in the day but by early afternoon had moved on to Kalama Beach Park farther down Kailua Beach.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell has said that exercise at beaches is permitted, including surfing, swimming, fishing and limu gathering. However, once the activity is completed, people should not be sunbathing or gathering on the beach and should leave, he said.
HPD’s website clearly states no loitering or group gatherings are allowed and advises the public to take the most direct route to the beach or the bathrooms, which remain open. But with the parks closed, people should not be strolling on paths.
The Police Department announced Tuesday it would start full enforcement of the emergency orders, and that violators should be prepared to be cited or arrested, not just issued a warning. A misdemeanor conviction for violating the emergency rules under Hawaii Revised Statutes, Sec. 127A carries a penalty of up to a $5,000 fine and/or one year imprisonment.
HPD Chief Susan Ballard and Caldwell announced Thursday the city would institute a curfew over the holiday weekend from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., ending 5 a.m. Monday. At this time, police are not conducting checkpoints or random traffic stops to enforce the emergency orders.
The Honolulu Fire Department has been using drones for various duties for at least the past six months, Roache said. They were used during the Hibiscus Drive shooting and fires in which two police officers were killed and a number of homes destroyed or damaged.