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Showing posts from November, 2006

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…