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Showing posts from January, 2007

On-Line Chat with Governor Recalls Slugger McGwire’s Testimony: Let’s Talk About Future, Not the Past; i.e., We Won’t Hold the Meetings

Former baseball hero Mark McGwire famously dodged questions two years ago at a congressional hearing into alleged steroid use in his sport by answering: “I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to be positive about this subject." When pressed with more questions, McGwire answered, "Like I said earlier, I'm not going to go into the past and talk about my past."

That pretty much sums up Governor Linda Lingle’s response to a question posed by CHORE during the Honolulu Advertiser’s “Hot Seat” chat room today. Here’s our question to Hawaii’s Chief Executive:

“Governor, don't you think it would be a good idea for State Civil Defense to conduct confidence-building public meetings on each island to discuss the problems it experienced on Earthquake Sunday and measures taken since then to improve emergency communications to the public? SCD is resisting holding these meetings. What do you think?”

And this is the Governor’s response:

“I think it important both …

State Civil Defense Disses Public Meeting Idea, Says Citizens Already Had Their Opportunity

Nobody knows what’s next in life, so we really have no idea whether State Civil Defense will relent and conduct public meetings on each island to engage citizens in a dialogue on emergency communications – as it should, in CHORE’s opinion.

That said, I’d bet the farm it won’t if today’s informational briefing testimony revealed SCD’s rock-bottom intentions. And I’d double the bet that it won’t happen without intervention from State legislators.

CHORE was first to testify at the briefing held by two legislative committees; we focused on our ongoing theme that the public has been improperly excluded from the post-earthquake discussions on how to improve emergency communications.

We argued that improving emergency communications is not a one-way street, with a government-dominated committee deciding what’s good for us without talking to us. Legislators surely know the value of citizen input. Ignore it, and they’re out of a job, but that’s not the mindset at State Civil Defense.

One Hearin…

Better Civil Defense Communication Set as Topic Of Informational Briefing Monday at Capitol

Two legislative committees will meet Monday afternoon to hear how “state civil defense (can) improve communication with general public when a man-made or natural disaster occurs.”

CHORE has a few ideas along those lines and hopes to present testimony during the scheduled three-hour briefing, which begins at 1 p.m. in conference room 423 at the Capitol.

Specifically mentioned as prospective attendees are members of the Comprehensive Communications Review Committee, along with just about every known agency and entity that could possibly be involved in weather-related and other disasters – county mayors, the National Weather Service, radio hams, hotel reps, FEMA, the FCC, TV and radio stations, the PUC, the DOE and others….and the public.

It will be interesting to see just where the public fits into the proceedings. As CHORE has said repeatedly, the public hasn’t been invited into the discussion until now. With no average citizens among its 70 members, the Governor-appointed Review Commit…

State Civil Defense Still Mum on Meeting

“One week, two weeks, three weeks, four;
give them a little, then wait some more.”

State Civil Defense officials probably don’t consciously treat inquiries from average citizens and taxpayers that way. But repeated emails and calls to SCD urging a meeting to describe the agency’s new and allegedly improved emergency communications procedures have not produced a substantive response.

CHORE’s email justifying such a meeting was sent two weeks ago to Vice Director Ed Teixeira. CHORE called public information specialist Dave Curtis a week later to follow up. Mr. Curtis described his personal feelings about such a meeting -- “I do not believe this is something we would like to do” – so we sent the justification once again to Mr. Teixeira. We’ve heard nothing since.

Maybe SCD’s leadership is simply too busy to deal with bloggers, but that in itself says something about an agency’s ability and willingness to communicate under duress. As CHORE wrote in December, “It would be inconceivable for…

Public Meeting Status: No Change, No Progress

The State Civil Defense recipient of our January 11th email had this response today about the public meeting we're advocating: "I do not believe this is something we would like to do." He stressed it's his personal opinion and that he's not had time to talk with Vice Director Ed Teixeira due to the latter's busy schedule.

Staffer Dave Curtis implied a meeting is unnecessary because SCD has been responsive to the public's emails and telephone calls. CHORE has been ineffective in presenting our case to Dave, a radio newsroom veteran, on why meeting with the public would be a demonstration of the agency's responsiveness and willingness to entertain the public's views.

We've resent the email -- this time directly to Ed -- and hope for a positive response when he's considered the value of meeting with the public as described in our message.

List of Communities Without Sirens No Longer Secret; Newspaper Forces Information Release

One of the more remarkable disclosures since the October 15th earthquakes came on October 29th, when the Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported on nearly 150 “gap areas” unprotected by the State's emergency siren system.

The gaps themselves are regrettable enough, of course, but as CHORE noted that day, the most astounding disclosure in the story was State Civil Defense’s refusal to say which communities are in the gaps. We asked:

“How does refusing to tell citizens where these gaps exist serve the public good? Families living in a gap area certainly deserve to know about it and that whatever sense of security they have the sirens will alert them in an emergency is false.”

To its credit, the Star-Bulletin didn’t let the issue die and filed a “public records request” that produced what it calls Siren Weak Points around the state; the list is in today’s edition.

The list is unsettling. How do you suppose parents with children in Enchanted Lake Elementary feel, knowing the school is on the li…

Encouraging Rapid Response to Kuril Earthquake

See January 11th post for latest on proposed State Civil Defense public meeting to review improvements to emergency communications procedures.
• Go to the bottom of this post for commentary on how Honolulu's two daily newspapers played the Tsunami Watch story. The contrast is amazing.

KITV broke into programming this evening around 7:15 for a "live" report by weather guy Justin Fujioka on the magnitude 8.3 earthquake east of the Kuril Islands that has triggered a Tsunami Watch for Hawaii.

We received our first notice of the 6:23 p.m. HST quake via email from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center/NOAA/NWS 30 minutes later, at 6:53 p.m. The email said a tsunami, if generated and if it reaches Hawaii, would arrive at 12:23 Saturday morning at Nawiliwili, 12:41 at Honolulu and 12:58 at Hilo. That first message -- and no other has been received as of 7:20 p.m. HST -- stressed that it's not known whether a tsunami has been generated.

From CHORE's perspective, it's go…

State Civil Defense Invites Input on Proposed Meeting; Capitol Auditorium Suggested as Site

An encouraging dialogue has begun with State Civil Defense that could well lead to the public meeting that CHORE has been pushing for over the past three months. We won’t go so far as to call the proposed meeting a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but like the South African process, it would indeed reveal the truth about emergency communications in this state and foster greater understanding and even reconciliation between SCD and citizens who have been shut out of the review process on why emergency communications failed after the earthquakes on October 15th and how it can be improved to serve the public.

SCD information officer Dave Curtis asked for an email today outlining why the meeting would be useful and what it might cover. CHORE produced the following, which is posted here in the spirit of transparency:

Email to State Civil Defense:

Dave, I'm glad State Civil Defense seems to have a positive attitude about holding a meeting to brief the public on what worked to communi…

Hearings Accentuate Need for Civil Defense Public Meeting; Legislators Asked To Help

CHORE sent the following email today to the members of the three legislative committees that held hearings earlier this week on Hawaii’s emergency response to the October 15th earthquakes:

Committee members, your hearings this week were a tremendous public service. Thank you for addressing the critical public safety issue of emergency communications effectiveness in our community.

Yesterday’s hearing revealed how lessons learned in emergency situations can be unlearned with the passage of time and turnover of personnel. As HECO's manager of corporate communications and spokesman in the 1980s, I and my colleagues were unable to telephone KGU, the designated emergency station, the night of November 23, 1982 when Hurricane Iwa struck, for the same reason HECO’s current managers were stymied on October15th in calling KSSK:

If you have only the telephone book’s numbers for local radio stations, you may as well have no numbers. You simply can’t get through, especially if the station is…

Anticipated Assessment of Public Information Response & Enhancements Completely Missing In State Civil Defense’s Capitol Briefing Today

• See bottom of today's post for update.

CHORE’s post here yesterday speculated (hopefully) that when the State Administration met with legislators this morning to discuss disaster preparedness measures and brief them on the October 15th response, we’d hear how emergency communications to the public has and will be improved.

Instead, what legislators, some media and a few members of public scattered among department directors and other State employees heard was a detailed description of how the Hawaii National Guard and State Civil Defense internal communications networks work. Other topics included quake damage to highways, airports, harbors and healthcare services – all important, of course, but not what we had hoped to hear.

To be fair, perhaps the legislators’ information request was narrowly focused on such matters and didn’t include how State CD is improving its public communications. That might explain Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Robert Lee’s presentation. Still unexplained …

Review Panel Releases List of Communication Upgrades; Remembering the KISS Principle; Public May Get Answers at Capitol Hearings

“We report, you decide” is how one broadcast network describes its role, and in that vein, it’s now time for citizens to decide what you like in the report distributed yesterday by the Comprehensive Communications Review Committee.

The Governor created this committee two days after the October 15th earthquakes and appointed 70 representatives from government, broadcasting and the print journalism and wireless communications industries. (No public representatives were invited, as CHORE has repeatedly observed, but we’ll get to that important issue near the end of this post and in future ones.)

The Governor’s Office press release summarizes the panel’s 15 recommendations to improve emergency communications response in light of government’s well-documented failures on Earthquake Sunday. The press release also has a link to the report and a separate link to the committee’s membership roster.

Some recommendations stand out as good ideas. Giving State Civil Defense a mechanism to interrupt …

Until the Public Is Served, Homeland Security Communications Scorecard Is Meaningless

The guy in the movie had it right: “Show me the money!”

Show me how the average citizen’s safety is actually being protected by emergency communications and first responders and then we’ll know how we’re doing.

According to a Honolulu Advertiser story today, Honolulu “is progressing toward closing communications gaps among emergency first responders….” The story then says the standard against which the agencies are judged is “to communicate with each other within one hour of a major disaster.”

One hour? One hour to communicate with each other?

CHORE takes no comfort in a situation in which responders are “progressing toward” a goal of talking to one another within an hour – not when a tsunami near the Big Island could devastate coastline communities across the state in a fraction of that time.

It’s terrific that first responders are moving toward – toward, but not at – this internal communications standard, but that’s not the issue, is it? Just weeks ago, these agencies failed miserably…

New Procedures Being Adopted to Trigger Tsunami Alerts Based on Quake Size, Location

The most important phrase in today’s Honolulu Advertiser story on new tsunami warning criteria appropriately is in the story’s lead:

“Scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center are rethinking the guidelines they use to decide which Hawai`i earthquakes trigger a local tsunami warning.”

They are “rethinking”, changing, adjusting – just what you’d expect people in responsible positions to do to take advantage of experience and lessons learned after an emergency.

Civil Defense officials have said they are doing the same – rethinking how they respond to emergencies, changing their procedures and adjusting the mechanisms they use to communicate with the public.

CHORE will use our first post of the New Year to renew our call for a public meeting to explain their adjustments to average citizens and respond to citizens’ concerns.

It may be too much to expect the Warning Center’s officials to meet with the public; the PTWC is tucked inside the federal bureaucracy and has no direct connection w…