Telephone Outage at Kalaupapa

Outside communications at the Kalaupapa settlement were strained for over two weeks when telephone lines stopped working intermittently starting April 23. The outage left the already-isolated settlement with few communication options for daily necessities, and in serious trouble in case of emergency, according to residents.

As of last Thursday morning, May 10, service to most phones had been restored, said Kalauapapa Department of Health (DOH) Administrator Mark Miller. Hawaiian TelCom (HTC) sent a repair team into the settlement and topside Molokai last week to replace equipment. However, many residents and patients expressed frustration at last Tuesday’s community meeting as to why it had taken so long for HTC to respond.

“I lost a lot of business for Damien Tours so I am really angry about this,” said patient resident Gloria Marks, who owns and operates Kalaupapa bus tour company Damien Tours. Because the phone outages cut off communication to the outside world and potential customers, her tours were reduced to about one-quarter of their normal load capacity, said Miller.

“Normally she gets busloads of tours but now she only has four or five people,” Miller explained at the meeting.

One DOH employee said phone service is sometimes lost for two or three days, but over two weeks is unacceptable.

Additionally, a patient was injured last week and was unable to contact anyone for immediate help due to the phone outages, a situation which could have been life threatening. Luckily, the staff at the DOH Care Home responded promptly and was able to secure a medical evacuation via helicopter for the patient, said nursing supervisor Carol Franko.

While some officials cited HTC’s Kalaupapa circuit board as the problem, DOH Chief of Communicable Diseases Division Glenn Wasserman said the entire system needs to be replaced.

“Because many problems were intermittent, diagnosing a root cause was challenging,” said Ann Nishida Fry, HTC Senior Manager. She thanks the Kalaupapa community for their patience as HTC worked to resolve service issues.

“We continue to monitor the area for any further disturbances and are in dialogue with the Department of Health, our primary customer in Kalaupapa, about different options and solutions,” said Fry.

Still, Miller hopes the situation doesn’t happen again.

“The Department of Health and National Park Service hope to work cooperatively with our congressional delegation about improving our antiquated telephone and power delivery systems,” he said. He hopes to eventually bring reliable cellular phone and Internet service to Kalaupapa, he said.

Miller said the settlement may make a credit request to HTC for April 23 to May 9, the 16 days that the phones were not functioning.


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