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Community Needs an Alternative to KSSK; Hawaii Public Radio Could Grow into Role

Let’s shift the focus to how emergency broadcasting can be improved and away from KSSK‘s marginal performance during Friday night’s island-wide power outage. Clear Channel’s apparent “entertainment first” philosophy – even during emergencies – poorly serves the public, as many are concluding. (See “comments” beneath stories in the daily papers and in Comments added to our Saturday and Sunday posts, below.)

Update: Today's Honolulu Star-Bulletin editorial also criticizes KSSK for its performance during the outage.
Would the public be better served if Hawaii Public Radio enjoyed that official status, too? We think so. HPR’s two stations – KHPR and KIPO, both FM stations – already are the state’s undisputed leaders in public affairs programming. Stepping up to emergency broadcaster status seems only logical.

First Things First

HPR’s leadership already has done a fine job upgrading its capabilities, including the recent increase in KIPO’s transmitting power. But the job is far from…

‘Masters of Disaster' Seem Pleased with Their Performance Despite Obvious Shortcomings

Most of the questions in yesterday’s post were directed at Clear Channel, the owner of several radio stations on Oahu, including KSSK-AM, a designated emergency broadcaster. The questions implied criticism of the response by some first responders. Columnist Lee Cataluna in today’s Advertiser shows we’re not alone in thinking the response should have been better.

As Cataluna notes, KSSK’s response to the outage was initially anchored by Mike Buck, a talk show host on KHVH, another Clear Channel station. We also were impressed by Buck’s businesslike handling of the emergency – straightforward, fact-based and relatively little nonsense.

But that changed within an hour when the weekday morning drive time team of Michael W. Perry and Larry Price took over. Fom that moment on, it might as well have been Tuesday.

Perry and Price deserve accolades as radio entertainers. Their show’s ratings – like that of the legendary “J. Akuhead Pupule” before them on Cec Heftel’s KGMB-AM – are always at …

Questions re Oahu Island-Wide Blackout, e.g. ‘What Is the Emergency Broadcaster’s Role?’

The December 26-27 power outage that affected all of Oahu lasted about 15 hours at our house, longer than many neighborhoods but shorter than others. The post-incident analysis has yet to begin, so we’ll confine ourselves to asking some questions.

Questions for Hawaiian Electric

Q: How is it that a lightning strike at the Kahe power plant on the Waianae Coast – if that was the cause – could knock out the entire grid?Q: Since the islands are isolated from other grids, what measures have been designed into the system to guard against what happened last night?
Q: Why didn’t the system isolate the problem at the Kahe plant and preserve the viability of the Waiau and downtown Honolulu plants?
Q: Why did measures fail that presumably were designed into the system to prevent such an eventuality?
Q: Were circuit breakers timed to react quickly enough to isolate Kahe and protect the rest of the grid? (That was the cause of the island-wide power outage on “Black Wednesday” -- July 13, 1983.)
Q: Did…

Oahu Ops Center Was Closed at Storm’s Peak

The Advertiser coverage of yesterday’s major storm includes the observation that “city emergency management officials reached between 4 and 6 a.m. appeared caught off guard by the extent of problems stacking up island-wide.”

The Emergency Operations Center wasn’t opened until three hours after heavy rain began pounding Oahu and the weather service issued a flash flood warning.

The story includes officials’ rationale that all such warnings don’t necessarily trigger a full-on response due to budget and other constraints. Nevertheless, most citizens undoubtedly would rather have officials on the job as water 4 feet deep flooded their homes and neighborhoods.

As the saying goes, “you never learn less,” and maybe Oahu officials have learned something from this experience. A page one story that contrasts their response with that of Kauai, which opened its operations center two hours earlier, can be a good teaching point.

Do Crisis Responders Intend To Use Cell Phones?

Yesterday’s AT&T cellular service outage throughout Hawaii makes you wonder how many of our civil defense and other first responders plan to use their cell phone during our next hurricane, flood or power outage to get the word out.

The outage lasted longer than reported in the Advertiser and Star-Bulletin accounts. Our service wasn’t restored fully until close to 5 p.m., making it a 10-hour outage.

Maybe we should just forget about relying on cell phone technology in our next crisis. Yesterday’s prolonged outage creates more doubts about the technology's reliability.

Millions Are Spent on Servicing CD Insiders, but True Need Is a Better Public Information System

The Honolulu Advertiser editorializes today on the need to upgrade the state and county Civil Defense centers, but we’re struck once again by what those upgrades would and wouldn't do.

Have you noticed in earlier media coverage that recent Civil Defense expenditures seem to be for tools and toys to keep officials themselves informed, coordinated and linked in? From the editorial:

The city’s center would coordinate the first responders – ambulances, firefighters and the like – and manage traffic on Oahu. The state’s center would monitor and respond to all the counties’ needs with its own resources, including the National Guard.

Just once we’d like to read about what’s being done to upgrade human software in the emergency communications chain. The big failure in October ’06 when two Big Island earthquakes resulted in a prolonged island-wide power outage on Oahu was CD officials’ inability to communicate efficiently with the public. (First-time visitors to CHORE are directed to our …

UH Schedules Another Emergency Alert by Text But Is Silent on Testing Other Crisis Channels

The University of Hawaii has a test planned of its Emergency Notification System that uses text messaging in a few days. We've become more accepting of TM as a way to communicate in a crisis since earlier posts here, now that we're doing quite a bit of texting. But as suggested here many times, a campus emergency notification can't end with text messaging, especially since there’s some evidence that students on other campuses haven't been all that enthused about signing up for emergency alerts.

The University of Hawaii “Guideline for Emergency Communication Policy and Procedure” alludes to “alternate methods of communications” that can be employed, but note how they’re mentioned:

“In the event of a power outage at the receiver end (when electronic methods are used), this system will be disabled and alternate methods of communication used.”

This suggests the alternate methods aren’t intended for use in the absence of a power outage. Try reading the procedure yourself a…

Fall Is Here, Still No Storms; Keep 'em Crossed

Hawaii moved uneventfully from Summer to Fall yesterday, and we've still not recorded a storm of any size during the 2008 hurricane season.

As we all should remember, though, the season extends through November. Iwa in 1982 arrived two days before Thanksgiving, so wood-knocking is still advised.

We've not been posting here for several months simply because the emergency communications issues that originally prompted this blog have been absent, absent any reason to use emergency communications. We trust (for now) that the considerable thought and the millions of dollars that have gone into upgrading emergency response in this state have produced results.

That's something we'll be able to assess if and when storms do pay us a visit. For the record, we hope they don't.

$s for Emergency Foreign Language Broadcasts

Checking in with the Governor’s PR office can turn up something useful now and then, such as yesterday’s press release that she’s released money to local foreign language radio stations to aid communications during emergencies.

Radio stations KZOO and KNDI each is receiving $100,000 “to assist with the implementation of recommendations issued by the Governor’s Comprehensive Communications Review Committee (GCCRC) convened by Governor Lingle following the October 15, 2006 Kiholo Bay earthquakes.”

In case the GCCRC is new to you, here’s how the release describes the committee:

“Members of the Comprehensive Communications Review Committee included more than 100 government officials from state, county and federal agencies; owners, general managers and publishers from print, broadcast, radio and Internet media statewide; representatives from telecommunications providers; and editors and reporters who were ‘on the ground’ gathering information and reporting on the day of the earthquake.”

At the…

Time To Dust Off Blog as 'cane Season Nears

Blogs that focus on one issue -- like this one and our Tsunami Lessons blog -- run the risk of losing steam and things to say once they've been said over and over again. And that's OK as long as the problems that originally prompted the blogs have been fixed.
We'd like to think Hawaii officials respond to emergencies better now than they did in October 2006 when we started CHORE. Same with our tsunami warning blog; we stopped posting there on the third anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, but you can bet we'll be back with more comment if PBS or the Discovery Channel show that "Wave that Shook the World" documentary again! (Read our 12/27/07 post to see what we mean.)
We've put CHORE on hold since early April, but we're nearing the six-month hurricane season in the Pacific. We hope nothing stronger than a gale blows this way, but if any of the three or four hurricanes predicted for the season do come close to Hawaii, we expect our officials…

“Scream and Shout” Seems To Be Accepted Protocol to Get NG's Attention in a Flight Crisis

Air traffic controllers who need to alert military authorities about a possible in-flight emergency have been forewarned: Go crazy on the phone, maybe something like this:

“Hello, National Guard? Help, Help,HELP!!!

Or so it would seem from the Associated Press story in today’s Honolulu Star-Bulletin. “There was no expression of concern….” says a military commander of the controllers’ call about the unresponsive go! airlines cockpit crew on February 13th.

The FAA is now investigating whether the pilots were asleep as the jet overflew its destination, and the Hawaii National Guard is sorting out its non-response to the FAA’s call that might have scrambled the Guard’s jets to investigate.

“If there’s a case of even a hint of a communications breakdown, we nave to solve this,” says the commander – something we’ve been saying since CHORE’s start.

Tsunami Warners Back Text Messaging for Hearing Impaired, but What’s the Backup?

Repeating the point of our February 29th post, text messaging has it place but is flawed as an emergency notification channel.  Now that the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and State Civil Defense are pushing TM to alert the hearing impaired, we'll make the point again.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin has a story today on Tsunami Awareness Month, and here's what it says about TM:
"A text messaging system also was created by Civil Defense to inform deaf people, government officials and emergency responders about a tsunami watch or warning.  The system involves sending text messages via e-mail, cellular phones and pagers.... so far, about 43 deaf people are in the system. Officials hope to increase that figure.  About $180,000 in funding was appropriated from the Department of Homeland Security for the pilot program...."
TM won't reach all hearing impaired, so once again we have reason to be wary when experts seem determined to see TM as "the answer" in emergency …

Text Messaging Has a Role in Emergencies, but UH Needs Much More To Reach Everyone

Many University of Hawaii students text message one another to stay in touch, but as a key component of UH’s emergency notification procedure, TM is sorely lacking.

Today’s Honolulu Advertiser story lays it out plainly enough: “…UH officials expect only 10 percent of the students to sign up” for TM alerts. Doesn’t that say it all about TM’s role in emergencies?

CHORE made this same point four months ago by quoting a National Public Radio report:
"College administrators are finding that students are not rushing to sign up for cell phone text-message alerts. After the Virginia Tech shootings last spring, many campuses felt this was the answer to keeping their students alert to danger, but students don't share their concerns."

It should come as no surprise to UH officials that students here apparently feel the same. Whether they “don’t care enough” about emergency notification – as one official is quoted in today’s story – isn’t the point. UH must use information channels t…

No Blinking Devices Means Reliability Was Perfect During Trip; a Tip for Wai`anae Coast

After the string of power outages at our place late in the year, it was a pleasant surprise to return from several weeks on the road to find no blinking clocks, radios, cable boxes, microwaves, ovens, amplifiers or coffee makers. Whatever was plaguing our circuit, Hawaiian Electric seems to have figured it out.

Speaking of HECO and reliability, we saw during our travels that the utility has proposed undergrounding transmission and distribution lines along Farrington Highway in Wai`anae as a work-around for the downed power line problem.

Retired HECO engineer Alan Lloyd suggested in his letter in the Advertiser on January 22 that steel poles would be preferable to burying the lines. Lloyd is one of those exceptionally knowledgeable and practical people you like to have around with a second opinion when knee-jerk solutions are suggested to solve a problem.

It’s true that undergrounding utility lines would beautify the Coast (it would beautify my street, too), but as Lloyd suggests, there…