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Showing posts from October, 2006

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…

Will State Civil Defense Brief the Public on Quake Communications and Improvements?

The public’s upset over inadequate post-earthquake communications is slacking off in the newspapers’ letters columns, and the rest of the media seem to be moving on, too.

Before the issue cools off much more, CHORE today urges State Civil Defense officials to hold a public briefing to explain the sequence of events on how it attempted to communicate to residents on October 15 and what changes it’s making in its communications plans.

That may be asking a lot at this time. CD officials undoubtedly are occupied by numerous quake-related requirements. They’re also preparing to host the Asia-Pacific Homeland Security Summit & Exposition 2006, October 31-November 2 on the Big Island.

This writer attended last year’s conference and posted the following to the Katrina Lessons blog after the Summit ended out of a concern that Hawai`i’s emergencies are more likely to be caused by natural events than by man:

“The Asia-Pacific Homeland Security Summit and Exposition came and went last week in H…

HECO Briefing Reveals Resolve To NOT Tell Public About Changes in Its Communications

Hawaiian Electric Company’s question-and-answer session at the State Capitol yesterday may have been captivating to the Public Utilities Commission staffers and retired engineers in the audience. Beyond them, I’m not sure it shed much light on what the public wants to know. Coverage today in The Honolulu Star-Bulletin and Honolulu Advertiser suggests as much.

As we see it, the public deserves to know more that just the technical reasons why the whole island went black on October 15th and stayed that way for a dozen or more hours for most of us.

Ninety minutes of talk about which generators and transmission lines tripped when and why on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island had a numbing effect.

The non-technical members of the public – that’s 99 percent of us – probably want to know this: “What has HECO done in the past week to improve its communications to the public in a major power emergency?” The next one could happen at any moment, and when it does, few would welcome a repeat of Earthquake …

Let’s Not Be Too Quick with the Anointing Oil While the Jury’s Still Out on Media Response

CHORE has devoted most of this blog’s space to questions about civil defense and utility communications last Sunday after the earthquakes. Today we raise a few points about the media’s performance – again with the intent to stimulate discussion and perhaps contribute to improvements in serving the public during emergencies.

First, a word from our sponsor about the writer’s experience with broadcasting and earthquakes:

I was on duty as the newsroom editor/producer at all-news radio station KFWB in Los Angeles at 6:02 a.m. on February 9, 1971 when the Sylmar earthquake struck. The 6.5 quake killed dozens, most of them in a veterans hospital in the San Fernando Valley. KFWB’s studios in Hollywood shook harder and longer than what we felt here on Oahu last week, but we stayed operational and broadcast without commercial interruption for the next 24 hours at least.

Every broadcaster wants to be on the air in a crisis, and since the federal government licenses all broadcasters to operate in…

Friday’s Revelations Make You Wonder How Much Emergency Planning Is Really Happening

CHORE’s first post on Tuesday said our intent here is not to lay blame. That wouldn’t add value to implementing solutions to the community’s emergency communications deficiencies, so if we inarticulately ask questions here that sound a little too direct, let this paragraph serve as CHORE’s preemptive apology. The questions need asking.

Friday’s news makes you wonder about the quality of the emergency planning in the quiet times between crises. Whatever scenarios were brainstormed before Sunday’s earthquakes, they obviously failed to uncover serious gaps in the first responders’ preparedness.

These gaps were pretty basic – like not having dedicated telephone lines to local radio stations and lists of unpublished numbers at the stations to call in an emergency. As mentioned in our commentary in Tuesday’s Honolulu Advertiser, these lessons were learned decades ago after other island-wide power outages.

Civil Defense and utility officials have complained they couldn’t get through to the …

Answers on Blackout Prompt More Questions; Citizens Will Have Their Chance on Monday

Hawaiian Electric Company’s briefing yesterday to the Public Utilities Commission was a welcome look behind the scenes of a utility that usually does its public service job out of sight and out of mind.

HECO employees are committed to providing what arguably is society’s most important product, around the clock and throughout the year. That commitment becomes part of the DNA of long-time employees, and it’s completely understandable why protecting the company’s generators was of paramount importance to them on Sunday – and on every day, for that matter.

The company’s collective actions saved the generators, and all were cranking again hours after the earthquake. That said, more questions are suggested by newspaper accounts of yesterday’s briefing.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported today that a HECO official said the only thing the company would have done differently during the power crisis was improve its communication with the media and the public.

The CHORE blog is about giving voic…

From Birth to On the Radio in Less than 60 Hours

10/20 Update: Click here for the MP3 file of the "Town Square" Show.

CHORE seems to have struck a nerve in a good way. Lots of calls and emails are coming in (although not so many "comments" posted -- but that's OK). Hawaii Public Radio has invited us to be on KIPO's "Town Square" public affairs show at 5 p.m. today (89.3 FM), along with Big Island Mayor Harry Kim (by phone) and State Adjutant General Robert Lee. Mahalo to host Beth-Ann Kozlovich and guest arranger Larry Geller, as well as Ian Lindfor helping bring us together.

First Light Sheds None this Morning on Whether Computer Setting Could Have Avoided Blackout

Go here for CHORE's first post and what we hope to achieve.

So far, last night's question remains unanswered this morning. The Honolulu Advertiser's story today -- "Preventing blackout would cost us dearly" -- has a rally-around-the-flag feel to it based on quotes of electric industry insiders. (BTW, with the jury still out, that's a pretty strong assertion for a headline on a news page.)

The experts cite the cost issue; "gold-plating" the system would be expensive, they say. But until last night's question is addressed by Hawaiian Electric, I'm not so sure. But let's not dwell on HECO here. Journalists presumably will ask the company about the unselected "dump the customers" option soon enough, and the issue surely will be plowed through in detail in the Public Utilities Commission inquiry -- we hope.

As noted in Tuesday's first post here at CHORE, the focus is on Citizens Helping Officials Respond to Emergencies, with a…

Will Thursday's Papers Answer this Question?

Three days of newspaper journalism and one 30-minute TV special have failed to answer the one question that Hawaiian Electric Company ultimately must address about why it lost power throughout Oahu after Sunday's earthquake.

HECO's representative managed not to answer it tonight in KGMB-TV's special, even though it was put to him in a pretty direct manner. Here it is:

Why did HECO's computer system select the "dump the generators" option instead of the "shed the customers" option on Sunday morning when the load suddenly exceeded the carrying capacity of the power plants?

Surely both options were available in the moment it took for the computers to decide what to do. Load shedding is a legitimate option, and had it been exercised, the hours-long outage would not have occurred.

HECO's infamous "Black Wednesday" outage of July 13, 1983 was caused by an all-generator shutdown after HECO's circuit breakers failed to react quickly enough t…

The "Comprehensive Communications Review Committee" Is Missing Something: The Public

Today's Honolulu Advertiser has a long story headlined "Governor wants quake information mess cleaned up". And to do it, she's appointed what she apparently called a "comprehensive communications review committee" that will include "managers and publishers of radio, television and print outlets, along with state officials, and recommend improvements within 60 days."

Not so fast with the "comprehensive" bit. Where's the public in this? Doesn't the Governor want to know what the public felt while in an information blackout on Sunday? Isn't emergency communications intended to keep the public informed? Without the public, what's the point?

This committee won't be "comprehensive" until it gives voice to the people who did not have their fears calmed about a possible tsunami, who did not know why the power was out and for how long and who wondered why 10 or more broadcast outlets were silent for hours or even …

Common Sense Says Our People Won't Panic

Go here for CHORE's first post on what we hope to achieve.

The operable words in CHORE are "Citizens Helping", because the more we read and hear from our crisis management officials, the more citizens need to chime in with their own common-sense views and help Hawaii's Civil Defense community do a better job in the next crisis.

We said in our first post to this blog yesterday that this site isn't about laying blame. And it's not. But....(and that's always a tricky word)....but....some common sense is needed in large doses.

Civil Defense officials continue to defend their low-key, non-alert performance on Sunday, and in so doing, they are treating Hawaii citizens like children. "Oh, if we had gone on the air to say there was NO tsunami, the message might have been misunderstood." (That's a paraphrase, not a quote; so is the next one.) "Oh, if we had turned on the emergency sirens to encourage people to get to a radio, there would have…

This is Your CHORE if You Choose to Accept It

CHORE stands for the title of this new blog: 
 Citizens Helping Officials Respond to Emergencies.

Specifically, the focus is helping officials in Hawaii respond to emergencies such as the one we just had -- the two earthquakes (6.7 and 6.0 on the scale) that struck the islands on Sunday, October 15, 2006.

"Help" is the operable concept. I get the feeling -- based on news coverage of officialdom's emergency response -- that some good old-fashioned idea mongering and suggestions might help improve communications to our population during and after emergencies.

You be the judge after reading this report in The Honolulu Advertiser today, headlined: "Debate begins on delay of news"

My reaction to that story is that our Civil Defense officials, elected government leaders and broadcast media need to communicate more, not less. Comments by officials in this story suggest a mindset to not tell the population too much for fear the messages might be misunderstood.

My thoughts…