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Some Media Show More Interest in Response Issues, but State CD Has Yet to Set Meeting

• See our Tsunami Lessons blog for a remembrance of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

KIPO’s December 28th “Town Square” public affairs program (the MP3 file isn’t yet available on-line but will be linked when it is) was devoted to the “unreported” news of 2006. CHORE was invited to participate and discuss the under-reporting of emergency communications issues since the October 15th earthquakes.

The Honolulu Advertiser has yet to run a story on the preliminary report of the Comprehensive Communications Review Committee. The Star-Bulletin’s story on that report was published a week ago yesterday, so there can be no doubt the Advertiser is under-reporting this public safety issue.

The broadcast media also have ignored it mostly until now, but KHON-TV2 followed up on the KIPO program with a report last evening that focused on communications and the electric power failure, which according to the State's Adjutant General was the biggest problem:

"It was a little slow getting the inform…

Quake Panel Quickens Pace, Releases Report With Recommendations for Better Response

[December 23 post: Two years ago on Christmas Day, Hawaii time, the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami killed hundreds of thousands. CHORE visitors are invited to spend a few minutes with today's post at our sister blog, Tsunami Lessons, on how the international news media networks could be used to improve tsunami warnings to distant and isolated populations.]

Maybe CHORE’s little rant a few days ago hit home.

Or maybe the Comprehensive Communications Review Committee’s spokesman was throwing a feint at the Star-Bulletin last week when he said the target to release the panel’s recommendations for improving emergency communications was “end of this year.”

Whatever, the report was distributed to committee members yesterday, and the Bulletin has a story on its recommendations today, notwithstanding the “CONFIDENTIAL – For Committee Use Only” notation at the end. (CHORE had a copy last night but decided the dailies could be first on this story for a change.)

We’ll reserve comment on m…

Slip Slidin’ Away: Review Panel Is Taking its Time Delivering Response Recommendations

Erika Engle’s “The Buzz” column in today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin follows up on CHORE’s 12/14 post and has more insight about the workings of the Comprehensive Communications Review Committee.

From our perspective, the biggest insight is how little urgency the committee seems to have about improving the state’s emergency communications capabilities, which could be required at any moment to respond to our next natural disaster.

Governor Lingle formed this committee on October 17th, two days after the 6.7 Big Island earthquake and hours-long power blackout on Oahu. Her formal message said the committee members “...will begin meeting immediately and submit their findings and recommendations to me within 60 days.”

Beginning the count on October 18th, the 60th day was yesterday – December 16th. But as Engle reports, Lenny Klompus, the Governor’s senior communications advisor, sees it differently: “Sixty working days…. In our mind, that takes us to the end of this year.“

Will 60 Days Morph in…

30-Minute Call with State Adjutant General Covers Issues; Briefing Date Still in Doubt

The man who commands State Civil Defense called CHORE late yesterday afternoon at the suggestion of Lenny Klompus, the Governor’s senior communications aide with whom we spoke earlier this week.

General Robert Lee hadn’t read this blog and therefore wasn’t familiar with the opinions expressed here for the past two months. We discussed several of them and followed up with an email calling his attention to seven posts -- October 18, 25, 27 and 29; November 23 and 28, and December 14 – that summarize the major issues CHORE has had with State Civil Defense’s emergency communications response and the review committee.

As reported here two days ago, the recommendations of the Comprehensive Communications Review Committee will be released to its members next week. General Lee said he’d be sure CHORE is included in the distribution.

Public Briefing Still in Limbo

We were disappointed at Lee’s implication that a public meeting of the kind advocated here for weeks might not occur before the ongoi…

Communications Review Committee’s Report Due Out Next Week, According to its Chair

Governor Linda Lingle created the Comprehensive Communications Review Committee 58 days ago to assess how communications to the public can be improved during emergencies. She acted following the two significant earthquakes on October 15th that shook up the entire state and revealed flaws in emergency communications protocols.

Her October 17th message said the panel would submit findings and recommendations to her within 60 days. That would be two days from now, but Chair Lenny Klompus told CHORE today the report’s release will slip into next week:

“We’re in a draft mode right now, putting all the information from the meetings into a document that would be a blueprint and an action-oriented plan” to improve communications, he said. The committee has met at least twice and held separate sessions for media decision-makers and on-the-ground reporters.

Since the focus of these meetings seems to have been on improving media performance during emergencies, we pressed the point that State Civil …

Shopping for Information; Anything Will Do...

Click here for what CHORE's all about.

Another week passes with no detectable government responsiveness to Hawaii citizens about its communications failures on Earthquake Sunday.

The Governor’s task force – the Comprehensive Communications Review Committee – may still be reviewing away, but there’s been no media coverage since that one Honolulu Advertiser story ran a month ago. Looks like CHORE will have to play reporter and make some calls.

And we’re still waiting to hear back from State Civil Defense on its intention to hold a public briefing on what went wrong on October 15th and what’s being done to correct the problems. Here’s CHORE’s inquiry to CD Vice Director Ed Teixeira a couple days ago:

I’m following up on your letter of early November in which you said I’d be hearing from Ray Lovell regarding the scheduling of a meeting for the public to discuss emergency communications. I’ve yet to hear from Ray, so perhaps you can give me an idea whether we’re likely to hear anythin…

Emergencies Rate Passing Mention in Address; Detailed Explanation to Public Still Unscheduled

CHORE had some fun with its Christmas gift wish list, but failures of the islands’ emergency communications system in the past two months deserve serious treatment once again.

Still unscheduled is the public briefing State Civil Defense said it would conduct to answer the public’s concerns about those failures and describe upgrades.

In her Inaugural Address yesterday, the Governor alluded in one sentence to this requirement:

“Maintaining our overall physical security requires us to continue our progress of minimizing criminal activity in our neighborhoods while constantly improving our ability to respond to natural disasters and other emergencies.”

The sentence has a “dropped-in” quality to it, and the address mentioned nothing more about a government’s primary responsibility to preserve its citizens’ safety.

CHORE will once again contact State Civil Defense to follow up on its vice director’s assertion that a staffer “will be contacting you for additional information and for a possible da…

Christmas Gift List Has Crisis Orientation Following Real, Imagined Emergencies

We’ll soon see Christmas wish lists compiled by columnists and other journalists for the public figures they’ve covered all year.

CHORE has compiled our own short gift list in the aftermath of the recent earthquakes, power blackouts, tsunamis, rumors of tsunamis, hoaxes and other emergency communications-related events.

Santa should try to deliver some these goodies before Christmas Eve. The next earthquake, tsunami, blackout or hoax could happen any time.

Hawaii’s Crisis Gift List

For the public – a library of emergency-related books, including: “Earthquakes Are Not Predictable”, “Hoaxes and Other Irresponsible Behavior” and "You Can't Surf a Tsunami"; a battery-powered radio for each household.
Every radio and TV station – a generator enabling it to stay on the air during power blackouts; an emergency response training course for all personnel; more “live” and fewer canned programs to improve responsiveness, and a special gift for KSSK – a leather-bound edition of “A Crisi…

Editorial (Inadvertently) IDs Tsunami Issue: Consultation Is Required To Pull Alert Trigger

Both the Advertiser and Star-Bulletin editorialized today on the earthquake rumor, and a key point in the Advertiser’s editorial deserves follow-up.

After noting that a tsunami generated on the Big Island could reach Oahu within 20 or 30 minutes, the editorial says:

“…had the (Pacific Tsunami Warning) center determined that there was a tsunami threat, it would have made the decision in conjunction with state Civil Defense(emphasis added) to issue a warning. In addition, sirens, civil air patrols would have been activated and sent along the coastlines to warn people on beaches, where some sirens cannot be heard….”

How much “conjunctioning” can be accomplished in 20 minutes -- especially if the event happens when key decision-makers aren't immediately at hand? Will the CAP really be airborne in time to fly out to remote beaches?

Once the warning center believes a destructive tsunami is on its way, why should it be required to coordinate with any agency? And what would Civil Defense’s ro…

What’s More Important – Chasing Hoax's Origins Or Perfecting Information Flow to the Public?

Civil Defense officials apparently spent much of their time yesterday investigating the origins of Sunday's earthquake hoax.

Before they get too far down the track with this effort, we have to ask: Will knowing the origins prevent another hoax? CHORE believes it’s more important to know why the hoax couldn’t be knocked down before it spread unchecked.

We learned in yesterday’s news reports that Civil Defense initiated “crawls” on some television programming Sunday evening (but not all programming and not on all stations) to address the hoax.

TV crawls can reach some of the public, but they have obvious limitations; they’re here one moment and gone the next, perhaps not to return for half an hour or more. And then there’s the problem of having to be in front of a TV set to see a crawl. If you’re heading off to fill your car’s gas tank because you think a tsunami's coming, no television crawl will reach you.

Maximizing the Message

So far, we’ve heard nothing about whether Civil De…

Public Gullibility for Earthquake, Tsunami Hoax Shows Extent of Education Challenge Ahead

One would think most if not all Hawaii residents would know by now that earthquakes are basically unpredictable and would have recognized yesterday’s “prediction” of a 9.0 quake for the hoax it was.

Didn't happen. Hundreds or maybe thousands of island residents reacted to the rumor with panic gas buying and by calling the police, civil defense, newspapers, TV stations and even the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, where a staffer said he was “unable to get any work done” because of the calls, according to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. (Note to the PTWC: Please ignore the crank calls and tend to your important work.)

Civil Defense officials now have “public education” on their to-do list, in addition to all the other fixes that earthquake-related events have suggested over the past six weeks.

The challenge is huge. First there’s the near-term requirement to squelch rumors in the early stages with messages to the public over radio and television outlets. The newspapers mention "crawls…

Citizens’ Complaints, Suggestions Prompt New Post-Earthquake Protocols at Civil Defense

November 26 Update: Today's Star-Bulletin carries an Associated Press story that's essentially a rewrite of yesterday's Advertiser report. CHORE participants should take note of -- as well as some satisfaction in -- the third paragraph: "Officials took the step after critics said the state should have done a better job informing residents after last month's 6.7 magnitude earthquake...."

Hawaii residents now know that if they push a rope hard enough and long enough, even a rope will move.

The new post-earthquake protocols described in today’s Honolulu Advertiser are a direct response to your concerns and complaints about the information void that dragged on for hours after the October 15th earthquakes.

State Civil Defense says Thursday was the first time the Emergency Alert System was used to announce that no tsunami had been generated by an earthquake.

On October 15th, residents living near the shore had no such help in knowing whether a tsunami was heading…

A Proposal for a Tsunami Emergency Alert Procedure: “Feel the Quake, Activate!”

Scientists and Civil Defense professionals must roll their eyes when CHORE and other amateurs come up with suggestions to improve response procedures.

But maybe simple solutions work. The present goal is to generate informational alerts to the public as quickly as possible following earthquakes to tell us whether a tsunami has or hasn’t been generated. The public needs to know either way.

As we see it at CHORE, both scenarios require an urgent response by Civil Defense. In post-October 15th Hawai`i, the public is looking for reassurance that officialdom can and will communicate with us when the chips are down.

Yesterday’s response was far superior to what happened in October, when earthquakes triggered an island-wide power outage on Oahu. But still, as noted in yesterday’s post, 15 minutes passed after the Thanksgiving Day earthquake before an Emergency Alert System announcement was made in a screen crawl and by voice on KGMB-TV around 9:35.

Could the EAS announcement have happened ea…

15 Minutes Pass Before ‘No-Tsunami Crawl' Appears on TV after Thanksgiving Earthquake

This morning’s earthquake hit the Big Island in approximately the same place as the two big October 15th quakes. The USGS has pegged it at 5.0, a “moderate” jolt that occurred about an hour ago at 9:20 a.m.

According to the Honolulu Advertiser’s first online report posted at 9:42, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued a message three minutes after the quake, giving it a 4.5 magnitude. Here’s a later Advertiser report.

Either at that time or shortly thereafter, the Center passed the word that no tsunami was expected. Although exact times aren’t immediately known, it’s safe to assume that the no-tsunami message went out around 9:30 or even sooner.

According to KGMB-TV, its audio of the station's coverage of an NFL game was interrupted at 9:35 and a “crawl” moved across the top of the screen about the earthquake and telling the audience that no tsunami was expected. (10/25 Update: KGMB's assertion that it broadcast the EAS message at 9:35 was later shown to be erroneous in thi…

Turkey, Shopping Soon To Dominate; Will it Leave Time for Emergency Response Fixes?

CHORE won’t be surprised if the whole emergency response issue is set aside for the next six weeks. Thanksgiving, shopping, parties, presents, eggnog – it’s all too much.

Besides, the earthquakes were weeks ago, and the 2006 hurricane season was as calm as they get in the Central Pacific. Complacency Check: What date in 1982 did Hurricane Iwa strike the Hawaiian Islands? Find the answer at the bottom of today's post.

The Comprehensive Communications Review Committee began meeting five weeks ago today. Is it still meeting? Who knows? You can’t tell from the media coverage, because there’s virtually none. Only one story has run on the committee’s review of the October 15th communications failures and discussions to make things better.

The only mention of the public meeting CHORE has urged State Civil Defense to hold was in a letter from the agency’s vice director posted here a week ago. We’re still waiting for the staff member to call about scheduling a meeting.

So as we slid…

“I don't know if it is our fault or their fault, but we need to get tied into the warning system...”

This quote about the November 15th tsunami is from the Crescent City, CA harbormaster after boats and piers in its bay suffered $700,000 in damage.

Crescent City is a cautionary tale for Hawaii because of the similarities between how the two locations prepared for the tsunami’s arrival.

(November 18th Update: Read more in the San Francisco Chronicle about the failure of California's warning system that left officials in Crescent City clueless to the tsunami's potential danger. Tsunami Lessons, our sister blog, asks why a tsunami warning is like the Telephone game.)

In both places, officials knew when the tsunami would arrive but predicted its effects would be minor. Officials in both places decided not to activate the siren warning system. Both places cancelled a tsunami alert before the anticipated arrival time.

The water level rose and fell rapidly in boat harbors around Hawaii, with only minor damage, and in Crescent City, where events turned dramatic hours after the West Coa…

Tsunami Event Passes with Few Consequences, Confirms Belief that Some People Are Stupid

The initial assessments of yesterday’s mini-tsunami event compliment the first responders for their measured efforts to alert the public. The absence of any significant damage and injuries validated their decision to not activate the siren system.

Aside from some minor scrapes among a few swimmers who ignored warnings to stay out of the water, this tsunami had no serious consequences. The biggest take-away may be that despite all that’s been done to educate the public about what not to do when a tsunami approaches, some people will do it anyway.

Officials may have to acknowledge that they can’t change those people.

Some Civil Defense staffers expressed concern in media reports that if they sound an alarm for what turns out to be a non-event, the “cry wolf” syndrome will desensitize the public to future earthquakes and tsunamis.

CHORE strongly encourages these officials to set aside that concern and concentrate on the needs of sensible people – the vast majority of us who occupy the mid…

State Civil Defense Commits to Public Briefing On October Earthquakes' Emergency Response

November 15th Update at 6:06 a.m.: This morning's tsunami watch triggered an Emergency Alert System break-in on radio stations between 5:50 and 6:05 a.m. It's an improvement when the EAS is at work within the hour of a watch, but it's not unreasonable to hope fine tuning will produce an even quicker activation.

Breaking a new development in the earthquake response story may be no great shakes in light of the media’s general disinterest in the story so far, but we’ll make the point anyway:

With this post, CHORE appears to be the first to confirm the State Civil Defense’s intention to conduct a public briefing on its response to the October 15th earthquakes and discuss lessons learned and planned improvements to emergency communications.

Vice Director of Civil Defense Ed Teixeira’s response to CHORE’s November 6th letter arrived today. It contains the welcome news that a public meeting is in the works and will be held once more pressing matters are addressed.

This is a good mo…

Elaborate Fix to Communications Problems Misses Basic Issue: Planning and Response

An editorial in today’s Honolulu Advertiser on improving emergency communications begins with this generalization:

“Communication is power, but there can be little communication when the power’s out.”

In truth, there MUST be communication when the power’s out. That’s the whole point of emergency communications – to provide information in the worst of circumstances.

Most of us would agree that an island-wide power outage is a bad circumstance. Oahu’s had numerous major outages over the past 25 years, so contingency planning surely took major blackouts into account. How, then, do we explain what happened on October 15th?

Planning and Execution

Citizens still are in the dark about the planning that’s being done to ensure our safety. The work of the Comprehensive Communications Review Committee has received only minimal media coverage, so the public essentially is uninformed at this point. But this much is certain:

The problem on October 15th wasn’t the failure of the cellular telephone ne…

Media Break Silence on Review Panel's Work; Will Findings Be Released in a Public Briefing?

Seventeen days after the first meeting of the State-appointed Comprehensive Communications Review Committee, the public finally can read about its progress.

Several committee recommendations to improve communications to the public during and after emergencies are summarized in a Honolulu Advertiser story today. The final report of the committee, which is composed of State officials and media representatives, is still more than a month away.

There isn’t much to go on in the Advertiser story, but there’s enough to raise a question or two – which of course is what this blog does. (Doug White raises some additional questions here.)

Was it a “Power” or “Protocol” Problem?

The major focus of the committee’s work as reported today was the power outage on Oahu that lasted for hours. The committee’s chair is quoted: “Power was the biggest issue. There was no backup.”

The island-wide blackout certainly was a huge issue, but was it the biggest? The designated emergency broadcast station and oth…

Proposed Civil Defense Briefing Would Help Public Evaluate Communications Readiness

• November 9th Update: This is the 16th consecutive day without media coverageof the state's Comprehensive Communications Review Committee, which began meeting on October 24th.
• See CHORE’S first post to read our Mission and Objective statements.

CHORE believes transparency about Civil Defense preparedness is appropriate in light of the post-earthquake communications glitches we all experienced. We're therefore posting a letter sent two days ago to State Civil Defense urging the agency to conduct a public briefing on lessons learned and proposed changes that will enhance community awareness and safety in future emergencies.

Mr. Edward T. Teixeira
Vice Director of Civil Defense
Hawaii State Civil Defense
3949 Diamond Head Road
Honolulu HI 96816-4495

Dear Ed:

My ongoing interest in emergency communications prompted me to start a web log called “Citizens Helping Officials Respond to Emergencies” (CHORE) after the October 15th earthquakes. The blog has been a convenient location to reco…

Sense of Insecurity Needs To Be Addressed by Islands’ Communicators, Including the Media

November 7th update:This is the 14th consecutive day of no media coverage of the Comprehensive Communications Review Committee, which began meeting two weeks ago today to examine the communications failures after the October 15th earthquakes.

November 6th update: CHORE anticipates that with the end of the Hawaii Security Summit, held last week on the Big Island, State Civil Defense officials will focus their activities on improving emergency communications procedures. CHORE will revive its request that they brief the public on their progress and the lessons learned on October 15th. Also, we can hope the news media will favor us with reports on the Comprehensive Communications Review Committee's work.

November 3rd update: CHORE's letter in today's edition of Pacific Business News was sent as an email to local journalists on October 19th before Hawaiian Electric Company's public briefing on the island-wide power outage. Therefore, the letter's reference to HECO…

Earthquake-Related Issues on Back Burner as Terrorism Dominates Hawai`i Security Summit

With just about all of State Civil Defense attending the Hawaii Security Summit on the Big Island this week, citizens will have to wait for answers to pressing questions about Earthquake Sunday and the adequacy of the communications response. Such as:

• Will State Civil Defense hold a public briefing -- as Hawaiian Electric Company already has -- to describe how it intends to improve communications to the public during and after the next emergency?

• What's happening to strengthen the local broadcast industry's ability to stay on the air during power blackouts?

• Which communities are in the "gap areas" that, according to a newspaper report on Sunday, are not covered by the emergency siren system? (Officials so far have declined to name them.) And will it really take seven years to fix that problem?

Let's hope our officials are prepared to be open with citizens on these relatively pedestrian nuts-and-bolts matters after they've thoroughly discuss the terrorism…

Tsunami Sirens Inadequate To Warn Isles, but Officials Won’t Say Who Lives in Silent Peril

Today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin breaks the news that Hawai`i’s beachside tsunami siren system may be next to useless depending on where you live.

If your community’s siren runs off the electrical power grid, it won’t work in a power blackout like the October 15 shutdown on Oahu even if a tsunami is detected.

And if you live in a community uncovered by a siren – officials say 148 more are needed to cover “gap areas” – you won’t get a tsunami alert either.

That’s remarkable enough, but buried deep in the story is this:

"Officials would not disclose the individual communities not covered by the system, saying only that 47 sirens are needed on Oahu, 38 on Maui, 52 on the Big Island and 11 on Kauai. But they said coastal areas have priority for upgrades."

Officials know which communities of perhaps thousands of families are inadequately protected by the alarm system, and they won’t identify them?

Serving the Public Good

How does refusing to tell citizens where these gaps exist serve the…

Still No Journalism in Sight re Communications

The "lack of journalistic enterprise" observed here yesterday seems more ingrained than we imagined could be the case. Today's papers again have no reports on the earthquake review committee’s meetings this week to improve emergency communications. Our emails to the papers' key gatekeepers urging coverage -- even a passing mention -- have had no effect.

Continuing that trend, we've received no response to our inquiry to a senior State Civil Defense official about whether CD will brief the public on its Earthquake Sunday activities and communications reforms. But, hey........

The trades are gentle,
the sky is blue,
the surf is up
and nothing’s new.

So goes life in Hawai`i Nei.

Communications Panel Meets Twice, but News Media Carry No Stories about What Happened

Here’s an early prediction on which Hawai`i news story will be ranked #1 by the local news media at year’s end: The October 15 earthquakes and subsequent power outage will top the list.

Then again, we haven’t heard the last of Michelle Wie this year. The Big Earthquake vs. the Big Wiesy -- that’s a tough choice in this town. Still, we’ll go with the earthquake.

But the real story isn’t the shaker itself. The real story is how the quake exposed gaping holes in our community’s emergency communications system and plans.

Civil Defense communications sputtered, the broadcast industry fell apart and the electric company couldn’t find a way to tell customers why the power was out and would stay that way for hours.

So with that backdrop, the Governor’s “Comprehensive Communications Review Committee” began meeting this week to gather information on what went wrong and how to do better next time.

The Big News Blackout

Representatives of the news media and government agencies met on Tuesday and Th…

“Comprehensive” Review Committee Meeting Behind Closed Doors; No Media Coverage?

From the top, here’s the commitment CHORE made in our first post on October 17: This is not a make-wrong site. We have no political motivation, no grudges, no hidden agenda. We’re not out to “get” anyone or any agency.

The issues raised here are meant to stimulate discussion leading to improved communications during and after emergencies in our community. The information flow after the October 15 earthquakes fell far short of what’s needed to safeguard lives and property. That’s CHORE’s opinion, and it seems to be shared by many others.

Surprise: The Committee’s Already Meeting

With that as preamble, we find it surprising the State’s so-called Comprehensive Communications Review Committee already has had one meeting this week. What’s surprising is that the meeting went unnoticed by the local media.

Another meeting is underway as this post is being written, according to the following invitation received by a Honolulu media outlet to attend today’s session:

"On behalf of Governor…