Skip to main content


Showing posts from December, 2007

Top 10 List Ignores What Affected Most of Us

Thousands without power for days, Waianae Coast residents cut off from the rest of the island, parents scrambling to find babysitters as scores of schools are closed.

What does it take to make the Star-Bulletin's list of the Top 10 Stories of ’07? Maybe what the list tells us is that disruption to the lives of average citizens like December's Kona storm just doesn't register with journalists. Or maybe the inconveniences inflicted on residents have become so routine they don't seem newsworthy.

We're a bit hyper here at CHORE about emergencies, but we have to believe the average person doesn't give a fig about the resignation of the Governor's chief of staff, #8 on the list, or successful missile tests on Kauai, #10. Compare that to having the only highway access to Waianae communities blocked yet again by a wind storm.

Chaos Defined Response to San Francisco Zoo Tragedy; Despite Planning, Execution Is Key

Unless events give a reason to do otherwise, CHORE’s taking a break from these occasional posts for some traveling. As we sign off for 2007, we recommend the recent San Francisco Zoo fiasco as an excellent example of how presumably competent officials can botch an emergency response.

A San Francisco Chronicle story today details the missteps minute by minute, including the declaration of a “Code One” by Zoo security personnel that prevented police and fire department personnel from entering the Zoo to attend to the victims of the tiger mauling!

Read the story and you can’t help wonder whether zoo officials ever rehearsed their emergency plan, which a second Chronicle story examines and concludes had little relevance to what actually went down on Christmas Day.

And that’s the essence of CHORE’s posts over the past 15 months – the necessity to plan for both expected and improbable events and then rehearse every conceivable scenario.

CHORE hopes all your conceivable and inconceivable scena…

Tsunami Anniversary Show Has Nothing New; NOVA Recycles Program Already Shown Twice

PBS’s third anniversary remembrance didn’t advance our understanding whatsoever of what might have been done to save some of those hundreds of thousands of lives that were lost in December 2004.

“The Wave That Shook the World” documentary shown in the NOVA time slot Christmas night was aired twice previously, the first time just three months after the event. All the views expressed in the show therefore are nearly three years old.

CHORE’s sister blog – Tsunami Lessons – has banged away consistently since the massive earthquake and tsunami about the complete absence of a plan to use the international news media to quickly disseminate tsunami warnings to remote populations.

The concept is so logical and so low-tech that it has attracted no support from NOAA and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. And that’s a shame – but not nearly as shameful as the lack of foresight and preparation within NOAA that left the Center unprepared to issue a life-saving warning on Christmas Day 2004.

Year-End Review Suggests Some Seemed To Be Open To Criticism, While Others Were Above It

A bright (and quiet) Hawaiian Christmas Day offers reflection time on the state of emergency response in 2007:

• We haven’t had a “big one” this year – a hurricane, tsunami or earthquake (like the October 2006 quake that launched CHORE) to test officials’ and agencies’ ability to respond adequately. Without one – and we’re not wishing for one – we have to take it on faith that civil defense officials have improved their procedures since Earthquake Sunday (see below).
• The “minor one” we did have in early December – a Kona storm with gale-force winds – proved daunting for both Hawaiian Electric Company and the several first-response communicators who were slow in putting what they knew on the airwaves.
• Oahu’s electric utility likely will be under pressure in 2008 to do something relatively dramatic to strengthen its grid on the Waianae Coast. One more episode of fallen polls blocking the only highway access to the coast might be the proverbial back-breaking straw for residents ther…

A “Good Start” Implies More Steps in the Future

CHORE agrees with Honolulu Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna that Hawaiian Electric’s recent half-page newspaper “apology ad” to Waianae Coast residents was a “good start.”

Since “Helping” is part of CHORE’s charter, we offer this helpful advice: Don’t stop there. We suggested earlier this week that bold steps are needed for HECO to restore its reputation in the area.

Full-on community meetings along the coast would demonstrate the company’s resolve to step up to the criticism and the challenge of improving power reliability in leeward Oahu.

Face-to-face meetings with residents will be infinitely more effective than signed statements published on paper.

Editorials Question Infrastructure’s Adequacy; HECO Can Strengthen Position with Outreach

CHORE first raised questions after last week’s storm about the adequacy of Oahu’s infrastructure, and now both Honolulu newspapers have chimed in editorially, most prominently in today’s Honolulu Advertiser but also in the Star-Bulletin yesterday.

The Advertiser editorial -- “Waianae deserves infrastructure improvements” – noted as we did four days ago that last week’s storm wasn’t even a hurricane and asked its own questions:

“What will happen to isolated areas such as Waianae in the event of a real disaster, like a hurricane? Will HECO's poles collapse again? Will ambulances and other emergency vehicles be able to reach their destinations quickly? Will lack of power hamper residents' ability to get food and water? All of these issues are key to public safety, particularly during a major disaster.”

Hawaiian Electric Company did the right thing after Earthquake Sunday when it briefed the public at the State Capitol on why its system crashed on Oahu. A similar outreach to the pub…

As Power Comes Back, Residents Ask about Radio Coverage, Poles and Undergrounding

It will take more than a few days for yesterday’s questions to be answered about this week’s kona storm. Residents inconvenienced by the loss of power, road blockages and more are adding questions of their own to the list.

A letter in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin is headlined, “Is it finally time to put lines underground?”

“Is it time yet? One dead from a power line dropped on a car. Thousands unable to go to work due to downed lines and poles. Food spoiled. The cost of police handling traffic when lines or poles are down. The costs to individuals, employers, employees, city and state caused by the lack of an effort by Hawaiian Electric to focus on undergrounding grow each time we have even minor storms.”

(The writer implies, as CHORE asserted yesterday, that a relatively minor storm caused this week’s disruption. It’s alarming to think what a category 3 or 4 hurricane could do to this island.)

Hawaiian Electric Company likely will answer “no” to the question. HECO’s position has always …

Case Can Be Made We Deserve Better, and if Not Better, We at Least Deserve Some Answers

It wasn’t a hurricane, so we can’t even call it by name; it’s just the “Kona Storm of December ‘07.” Yet this storm with sub-hurricane-strength wind gusts brought commerce to a halt and left whole communities and tens of thousands of residents without electrical power.

Oceanic Time Warner announced a statewide interruption of all services – Internet telephone, cable TV, email and Internet access itself. Businesses closed and events were cancelled. Downed utility poles isolated communities in the same place where utility poles fell less than two years ago. Dozens of public and private schools, including pre-schools and after-school programs, didn’t open. Bus service throughout Oahu was suspended, temporarily stranding untold numbers of commuters.

Yes, it was windy and trees were uprooted. Roads were blocked, and roofs flew into neighbors’ yards. There's no question it was a strong storm.

But it must be asked: Should a storm with sustained winds far below hurricane strength para…

KSSK Steps Up to Kona Storm’s Emergency; Spokespeople Still Slow with their Response

Last night’s kona storm was as close as we came to a hurricane this year. Utility poles, trees and boulders reportedly blocked streets and highways around Oahu early today as southwesterly wind gusts in the 60-mph range were recorded on Oahu and Molokai.

Oahu’s designated emergency broadcast station, KSSK, has responded well this time. We tuned in shortly after 3:45 a.m. when our neighborhood’s circuit went out (for the sixth time since November 4th).

Christmas music continued to play except for a short “live” newsroom announcement around 4:10, and Mike Perry went “live” at 4:30 and has been going at it nonstop as of this posting.

The station’s newsroom seemed to be fully activated, with personnel breaking in with reports on school closings, highway reports and other newsworthy items. Overall, this was the Michael W. Perry we remembered from Hurricane Iwa 25 years ago – fully engaged and obviously wearing his “emergency hard hat” today.

Where Were the Responders?

What wasn’t as smooth w…

Fatality Update: ‘Corroded’ Insulator Faulted in Power Line Fall; HECO Starts its Inspections

Hawaiian Electric says a “corroded metal internal component within the ceramic insulator” contributed to the insulator’s failure, which caused the line to fall and ignite a fire that killed a Wahiawa man in his parked van three days ago.

Mid-Morning Update: A HECO representative told CHORE this morning that the company began inspecting the Wahiawa grid the day after the 7,200-volt line fell, noting that an insulator failure is extremely rare.

Despite the rarity, CHORE believes a system-wide inspection – even if it only involves spot examination of insulators around the island – would give customers some comfort that the Wahiawa tragedy was more likely a fluke accident and not evidence of a wider problem. The public needs reassurance that the high-powered electric grid above our heads isn’t corroding into disrepair.

Whether the news media will give this story its due is problematic; the Star-Bulletin buried HECO’s statement in its Newswatch column today, and the Advertiser ignored it.