Safety Briefing

These pages present all the relevant safety and logistic information for your visit to the EAO Offices in Hilo, Hale Pohaku (HP) and the JCMT. These pages are designed specifically with a visiting astronomer in mind but all visitors to EAO may find them useful. These pages are meant to complement the safety briefing that you will receive from your support astronomer or your EAO staff contact. These pages also provide a summary of the information that you should be familiar with during your visit. If you have any question please direct them to your contact or e-mail the help desk. A link to the full EAO Safety Manual can be found here.

EAO Hilo Office

Information for visitors

All visitors entering EAO buildings, grounds, or facilities must comply with applicable health and safety policies and procedures. Visiting observers are issued a standard packet of information whose contents include the following safety related information:

  • registration on arrival
  • use of EAO vehicles
  • EAO policy on stays at high altitude
  • Operating instructions for EAO vehicles
  • Medical Alert waiver forms
  • Green, Yellow and Red emergency cards


When you arrive at the EAO office in Hilo your support astronomer will:

  • make sure you register with the receptionist
  • make sure you that you have an ID photograph on file with us (for the new MK credentialing system)
  • inform you about procedures in the event of fire
  • show you the emergency assembly area (at the front of the Gemini building)
  • inform you that it is possible to call Police, Ambulance, and Fire by dialing 911 and press the send button.

Evacuation Map for the Hilo Office

If you hear the fire alarm, evacuate the building and convene at the front of  the Gemini building. If you find a fire:

  • Raise the alarm and start evacuation
  • Contact 911 (at the summit this can be left until later)
  • Do not fight the fire
  • Do not re-enter the building unless the okay is given by an EAO staff member.

In addition your support astronomer will make sure you have:

  • an account on the public computers. Please log in to this from Hilo to (re-)initialize the account, prior to logging in and doing work at the summit.
  • access to the EAO wifi
  • their contact information (phone numbers, office number)
  • combinations for the vehicle lock box and the various buildings at Hale Pohaku.
  • a physical copy of your current, valid driving license (if you are scheduled to use of one of our vehicles). Please be aware that there is a legal requirement for your driving license to (also) feature English characters.
  • electronic key for long-term visitors of the EAO building in Hilo

If you plan to arrive out of hours, you should contact your support astronomer in advance for instructions on how to get to the EAO and get the keys to your car. For your convenience it is strongly advised that visitors arrive between the hours of 9am and 4pm Monday to Friday.


Visitors should, if possible, leave signed paperwork (Medical alert disclaimer form, TBD) with Reception. Additionally all observers will have to sign a waiver form to enter the UKIRT building. The UKIRT waiver form can be found here.


Driving - Hilo to Hale Pohaku

It is expected that visiting observers will drive themselves in an EAO vehicle from the EAO Offices in Hilo to the base facility, Hale Pohaku. Classical departure from EAO in Hilo is 3pm. The classical return journey from HP to EAO is 2pm. Any changes to this must be cleared with the scheduler -usually via your Support Astronomer.

Foreign visitors to Hawaii can drive a car with an international driver’s license (without an additional International Driver’s Permit) as long as it’s valid in the home country and is written in English. If the international driver’s license is in a language other than English, and the letters are not English (i.e. Japanese, Arabic, etc), an additional International Driver’s Permit is required.  An international Driver’s Permit is a translation of an individual’s foreign license and is normally easy and inexpensive to obtain in the driver’s home country.

Note that driving from HILO to HP is considered one of the most hazardous activities at EAO. Obey speed limits at all times. Reduce your speed if the conditions of the road so require (heavy rain, fog).

Driving directions between the EAO offices in Hilo and Hale Pohaku (HP).


The lock box is located outside the EAO staff lounge.

  • DO NOT drive down after a night’s observing without sleep.
  • DO NOT use EAO vehicles for anything other than driving from the EAO offices in Hilo to HP and back (the only exception is driving to a grocery store for supplies on the way to HP).
  • At HP please park in the lower car parking lot
  • Return vehicles to the back of the EAO offices – back of the engineering shop or by the lunch benches, (enter via the Gemini entrance), if at all possible. Note that the back of the EAO  can be reached through the driveway leading to the Gemini Base Facility  (Visitor Entrance). If there are no spots  available  you can park in the main parking lot.

Driving notes

  • From any terminal type “vehicle” and the date (i.e. vehicle mon) to inspect the vehicle schedule for the day. Please note the vehicle you travel up to HP in may not be the same as the one you drive down in.
  • If the vehicle you are schedule to drive down in is different from the one you drove up in please ensure you have spoken to your Support scientists in case it is vastly different to drive.
  • Observers should read the blue book in the vehicle glove compartment before driving a vehicle type for the first time, and refer to it in case of difficulty. Also note that the blue book does not contain what is important to know about driving a specific vehicle. Observers should also read and use the vehicles owners manual for this information.
  • All EAO vehicles have anti-lock brakes (ABS).
  • It is important to use the lower gears of the vehicle going downhill on steep sections (to allow the vehicle to use engine braking). Instructions for vehicles with electronic gears can be found here.
  • Schedule changes: contact the vehicle scheduler (9696509) and/or contact your support Astronomer.
  • Problems with vehicles – leave a note in the car, send e-mail to, let TSS know
  • Accidents – you are allowed to attempt to help out in case of an accident, but make sure you take precautions if there is blood around. Gloves and masks are provided in the medical kit box in the boot/trunk. Note that the blue book contains vehicle accidents procedures.
  • Seat belts – Driver and all passengers are required to wear seat belts.
  • Smoking – not allowed in EAO vehicles.
  • Hitchhikers – not allowed unless injured, or in distress. They may only be taken to the hospital (map in the yellow book)
  • Towing – not allowed.
  • Car doors – Do not leave any personal belonging in the cars! Lock at HP (we’ve had safety equipment stolen); unlock at JCMT (in case of icing up).
  • Your support scientists will ensure your vehicle is adequately filled with gas prior to you departing the Hilo facility.
  • Bring enough warm clothing to get to safety if the car breaks down on the road.
  • Phone – The satellite phone is provided for emergency or operational use only (instructions in the blue book). It is acceptable to use this to call for a taxi when arriving in Hilo after hours or at weekends. No personal calls.
  • When driving close to the VIS center drive slowly and cautiously. There are many pedestrians in the vicinity of the VIS center and you may be asked by a ranger to stop.
  • The return trip: after a night of observing at the JCMT drivers are expected to sleep for six hours before driving down to Hilo at the scheduled down time of 2pm. If you need to depart earlier than this you will be charged for the cost of a taxi (~$150).

Hale Pohaku

Hale Pohaku - image by Tom Kerr.

Hale Pohaku – image by Tom Kerr.

When you arrive at Hale Pohaku you will need this combination code to get into the building (password protected). Once you are inside the Hale Pohaku facility take a moment to get orientated:

  • Collect room key
  • Drop off vehicle keys in the EAO terminal room located at the top of the stairs on the left (the keys should be put on the board immediately after arrival at HP, and not kept with you or in your room).
  • Write your name and assigned HP room number on the whiteboard in the EAO terminal room.
  • Send your support astronomer an e-mail to confirm you have arrived safely.
  • Note location of first aid and AED devices
  • Familiarize yourself with how to order your night lunch for when you work a night shift. The night lunch request forms are located by the salad bar island, and should be filled out by 3:00 p.m. The prepared meal will be placed in the refrigerator by dinner time. Sandwiches and microwaveable dinners are also available for you to take up yourself.


Observers who are acclimatizing should not attempt to drive or travel to the summit unless they have permission from their support scientist or TSS.

You will need to coordinate with your support astronomer and telescope operator the start of shift time. For support staff, the “start of shift planned departure times” can be found here (password protected).

Visitors should note that smoking is prohibited at HP and the area around this facility.

Finally visitors often note that they sleep much better when using the humidifier provided for guests within their rooms. You will also find moisturizer in the bathroom cabinet (behind the mirror) for your use and blackout blinds in all the rooms.


High Altitude Safety

The summit of Maunakea is located at 14,000 feet. At this elevation, the atmospheric pressure is about 40% less than at sea level. This poses significant health hazards. The effects on humans range from a minor discomfort to life threatening conditions. It is very important to understand the symptoms of altitude sickness and to be familiar with the procedures to prevent it and to respond to it.

Summit of Mauna Kea - image by Tom Kerr

Summit of Mauna Kea – image by Tom Kerr

Please take some time to carefully read the Maunakea Hazards information sheet and the Preparation for Winter Weather memorandum.

The EAO policy is to err on the side of safety when dealing with actual or potential mountain sickness. Visitors or staff experiencing symptoms should inform the Telescope System Specialist or Work Leader at once. A decision will then be taken on whether the individual should descend from altitude.

In any case, nobody is allowed to spend more than 14  hours above HP during any consecutive 24 hours period. Considering the time it takes to drive from HP to the summit and back, this corresponds to less than 13 hours at the summit. TSSs will enforce this if necessary by switching the telescope off!  TSSs have the EAO’s full support in this.

High-altitude sickness

Please inform the TSS if you are experiencing any of the signs or symptoms listed below, or if you have any other reason of concern.

Major symptoms Major signs
Minor symptoms
Severe unrelenting sudden headaches Slurred speech Mild shortness of breath
Shortness of breath Visual Disturbance Dizziness
Chest pain Loss of Coordination Lightheaded
Abdominal pain Paralysis Headaches
Seizures Visual Change
Collapse Palpitations
Slow or Rapid Heart Beat Chest Tightness
Labored Breathing Nausea
Unrelenting vomiting or nausea

It is important to know and get used to what is “normal” for you at high altitude. We ask that you keep the TSS informed of how you are feeling throughout the night. Please be cautious even if you have had no previous issues at altitude before.

Preventing high-altitude sickness

  • Avoid over-exertion and pace yourself
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid standing for long periods of time
  • Don’t smoke
  • Avoid gas-producing food
  • Avoid alcohol. Note that alcohol consumption is prohibited at the summit and in the buildings at Hale Pohaku
  • Pressure breathing (slow exhale through your mouth with your lips almost closed)

The visit to the summit is not allowed if:

  • you are below 13 years of age
  • you are pregnant
  • you have been SCUBA diving in the 24 hours preceding the visit

You are advised not to go to the summit if:

  • you suffer from a respiratory or heart condition

Other hazards:

  • Dehydration can occur easily.
  • Serious sunburn and eye damage can occur easily, especially if snow is present.

It is  very important that observers are well rested and ensure they sleep as much as possible in their allocated room at Hale Pohaku between summit shifts. If any issues regarding sleep comfort arise please contact your support scientist or TSS as the issue may well be easily fixed.


Safety at JCMT

 The TSS is the work leader and safety officer during the night shift. The TSS has the authority to take any action deemed necessary for the safety of the observer and of the telescope.

General Safety Information

  • 2 person rule: There must always be at least 2 persons in the building, one of whom must be EAO staff (and the designated Work Leader). Observers should not enter the building without a TSS present. This normally is automatic since the TSS does the driving, but needs coordinating when doing split shifts. The TSS is responsible for safety in the telescope, but observers must remain vigilant to the Safety of the TSS.
  • 14 hours rule:  the maximum stay above HP is 14 hours.
  • ID: observers should carry ID and health insurance information with them when at the summit in case of an emergency.
  • Please ensure you wear sturdy, warm, closed-toe shoes and appropriate warm weather clothing
  • Telephones – get outside line by hitting a blue line button (Line 1 … Line 4) in the middle or at the right side of the telephone. Similar procedure to pick up. Note the hold and page (to make announcements through the building) buttons.
  • Telephones – emergency number is 911. Other numbers are given in the safety manual (and in the control room at the wall).
  • Note: in case of an emergency involving the TSS, call UKIRT immediately at the remote operations room in Hilo
    • UKIRT primary number: 969-6574 (969-6579, or 969-6561)
    • via polycom, which should be up and running at all times – unmute first (mute/unmute button on remote control)
    • If UKIRT (exceptionally) would be operated at Maunakea, the number is 961-6091
  • Note: in case of an emergency involving the TSS, alternatively try another observatory and the Ranger
    • Ranger VIS Phone (8:15am – 10:00pm): 934-9244
    • Ranger Cell Phone (10:00pm – 8:15am): see the Emergency Phone list located next to the telephone in the JCMT control room.
  • Access: Observers are allowed on the lower floor (crew room, rest room), and the observing floor. Ask the TSS to visit other places.
  • Emergency exits: main entrance, and through door at backside of observing floor (in box to left is a (short!) chain ladder to go to ground level). Here is a link to the evacuation map for the basement and the evacuation map for the Observation floor.
  • Fire alarm pull-stations – will be shown to you as soon as you arrive at JCMT
  • Leave building immediately via a safe route in case of fire alarm; Meeting place SMA parking area.
  • If oxygen is administered to anyone at the summit the patient must in all cases be immediately transported to Hale Pohaku.

Emergency meeting place – SMA parking area

Visual Guide for JCMT safety equipment

The images shown here are not intended to replace a full health and safety briefing. These images are to be used as a reminder of the importance of health and safety at the JCMT and some of the key points to remember. When entering and leaving the JCMT always make sure you clearly indicate your presence in the building by entering your name (or using a visitor check in) and checking the box next to it in the “In Building” column on the check in computer. Leave all vehicle keys under correct hook, just left of the check in computer

JCMT Check-in Computer

JCMT Check-in Computer

When walking around the lower floor be aware that the upper floor rotates. This means that the carousel stair may move at anytime and you should use caution when walking on the yellow marked region around the plinth area. At the bottom of this staircase is a kick plate. This prevents the stairs from running over obstructions. Should you accidentally kick this the reset button is found to the lower left. Swivel the cover and push in to reset. You should also inform the TSS.


A first aid cabinet and a portable oxygen supply (one of two at the JCMT) can be found outside of the kitchen area. Please inform support staff if supplies are low. Be careful when taking medication up at altitude.


In the vestibule to the control room on the observation floor there is a second AED device and a first responder kit. There is also the second portable oxygen supply. This oxygen comes with a carrier for easy transport.


You should familiarize yourself with the location of fire alarm pull stations, and emergency stop buttons.




If you hear the fire alarm, evacuate the building and convene outside. Follow EAO staff to the emergency assembly area. If you find a fire:

  • Raise the alarm and start evacuation
  • Contact 911 (at the summit this can be left until later)
  • Do not fight the fire
  • Do not re-enter the building unless the okay is given by an EAO staff member.
Evacuation map - JCMT basement

Evacuation map – JCMT Basement

Evacuation map - JCMT Observation floor

Evacuation map – JCMT Observation Floor

View across to CSO and JCMT - image by Tom Kerr.

View across to CSO and JCMT – image by Tom Kerr.

General procedures

Wireless: The summit is a wireless-free area. Please turn off the wireless adapter on your laptop and place your mobile phone into airplane mode. This also includes the Bluetooth radios in laptops, tablets, phones, watches and any other “smart” devices.

If you wish to use your own laptop in the control room and it lacks an internal wired ethernet port (e.g. some newer Apple Macs that rely on Thunderbolt ports), please remember to bring the appropriate dongle.


Maunakea - a sacred site

Maunakea is a sacred place in Hawaiian culture. It is considered the home of the snow goddess Poli’ahu, and many other deities. It is also an important site for traditional cultural practices, prayers, burials, and consecration of children. As a result we emphasize the importance to visitors in respecting this aspect of the mountain.

Although it is often translated as “white mountain” because of the snow that occasionally covers the summit, Maunakea is short for Mauna a Wakea. In the Hawaiian story of creation, Wakea is the sky father, husband of Papa, the earth mother, who gave birth to the islands. Hawai’i Island is their eldest child, and the mountain of Maunakea is that child’s piko, or navel.

In your visit to Maunakea, remember that the whole mountain is sacred, celebrated, and culturally sensitive. We do not have a complete map of the altars and burial places therefore the rules and indications provided in this page apply to any place on the mountain. Also remember that opposition exists amongst a segment of the native Hawaiian community to the presence of the telescopes on Maunakea.

“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints”

Hiking on Maunakea

Hiking and exploring the mountain are potentially dangerous activities, as is driving on the summit road, especially if you don’t have much experience.


  • if you decide to hike, stick to the marked paths and trails, both for safety and cultural reasons
  • if you leave the main road for more than 5/10 minutes, let somebody know (the TSS if you are in an observing run, or Work Leader if applicable)
  • make sure you have enough water, adequate clothing, adequate shoes, sunglasses, and sunscreen
  • register long hikes at the Visitor Center
  • use ONLY the portable toilets or the telescope restrooms
  • if you have a chance, stop at the visitor center near Hale Pohaku
  • while in Hilo, consider visiting the Imiloa Astronomy Center


  • litter, deface, pick up stones, pile up rocks, pick up or step on plants
  • use your cellphone other than for emergencies
  • play loud music (turn off the radio in your car)
  • set fires or smoke


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