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No damaging waves, but lessons learned

Officials count the experience as good

By Sarah Zoellick / szoellick@staradvertiser.com

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 07:59 a.m. HST, Oct 29, 2012


State and county officials haven't yet come together to discuss the details of how Saturday's tsunami warning and coastal evacuation were handled, but all agree that it went as well as it could have given the short time frame emergency responders had in which to act.

"We will learn from every one of these events that we have, and there are some small wrinkles that probably could have minor adjustments, but in fact this was done effectively, efficiently and professionally by all the people who were there in the emergency operating center," Mayor Peter Carlisle said.

Hawaii was put under a tsunami warning by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center at about 7 p.m. Saturday after a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck off the west coast of Canada near British Columbia about two hours earlier.

Emergency responders scrambled to evacuate coastal areas, and residents ran to gas stations and grocery stores to stock up on necessities.

As people waited in shelters around the state, scientists recorded the first tsunami wave at 1.6 feet high near Maka­puu at about 10:30 p.m. Kahu­lui Harbor recorded a similar-size wave about 20 minutes later. Measurements continued until Pacific Tsunami Warning Center officials downgraded the warning to an advisory at about 1 a.m. and lifted the advisory just before 4 a.m.

By 10 a.m. Sunday most Oahu beaches had reopened, and the Civil Defense teams had disbanded, a state Civil Defense spokes­man said.

Hanauma Bay remained closed through this morning because of tidal fluctuations but could reopen at noon, city officials.

Harbors officially reopened Sunday afternoon, a state Department of Land and Natural Resources spokes­woman said.

Kauai, Honolulu, Maui and Hawaii county officials all reported no tsunami-related damage, and DLNR said that state property was spared as well.

Carlisle said he thinks the state and county warning to evacuate wasn't an overreaction.

"There wasn't the slightest overreaction when you have that magnitude of an earthquake and you are aware of the fact that there are going to be tsunami waves traveling quickly across the ocean to Hawaii," he said. "This was a potentially dangerous situation and had to be treated as such."

John M. Cummings III, public information officer for the city Department of Emergency Management, said the tsunami response Saturday was unprecedented because of the short period officials had in which to react.

"Yesterday was from 0 to 100 miles an hour in a very short time," Cummings said. "It was a very challenging event trying to get everything mobilized in such a short time."

Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, said the warning was not issued immediately after the quake because he initially thought it was of magnitude 7.1 instead of 7.7 and that it occurred on or closer to land rather than in deep water.

Officials do not yet have reports or answers ready, but they have acknowledged some malfunctions with warning sirens.

Sirens in East Hawaii including Keau­kaha, Wai­akea and at least portions of Puna initially failed to work due to a "glitch," but the problem was eventually fixed, Mayor Billy Kenoi said Saturday night. Sirens were sounded successfully in the East Hawaii area at about 9:10 p.m.

Cummings said technicians on Oahu will be inspecting sirens today that residents reported were either not working or faint. He said the island has more than 180 sirens in place that are subject to hazardous conditions and prone to mechanical issues.

Shelly Kunishige, public information officer for state Civil Defense, said she received six complaints from Oahu residents reporting malfunctioning sirens, only one of which was in a tsunami evacuation zone.

She said Hawaii Civil Defense is installing two-way communication sirens on Oahu and Hawaii island that will enable officials to know immediately when a siren is not working. Currently the state and counties depend on volunteers to call in broken sirens during the monthly siren tests and have no way of knowing when one fails to sound.

The new system will be satellite- and cellular-activated instead of radio-activated, which makes it possible for state officials to back up the county if anything should go wrong with their system, Kuni­shige said. The new system is expected to be fully installed on Oahu by early next year.

Mike McCartney, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said Sunday he had not heard of any difficulties with hotel guests, and he is pleased with how the visitor industry handled the evacuation.

"I think what we see time and time again is that we have excellent leadership and excellent staff in our properties," he said. "They train for this; they know what to do. They handled the guests and it went well."

At Hilton Hawaiian Village all guests were in their rooms beginning at 10:10 p.m. Bars and restaurants were closed by 9:50 p.m.

"Everyone has been extremely cooperative," Jerry Gibson, area vice president of Hilton Hawaii and managing director of HHV, said Saturday night.

McCartney said HTA opened up a command center in the Hawai‘i Convention Center with all of its tourism industry partners to help visitors and communicate with neighbor island hotels and authorities.

"The aloha spirit was alive and well," he said. "We just appreciated everyone's patience, especially our visitors going through this. But in the end it was very important to be safe, and Hawaii really prides itself on that — being prepared and being safe."

Kunishige said state Civil Defense's emergency response protocols have remained relatively unchanged since the Japa­nese tsunami in 2011.

The agency did, however, update its call roster recently to improve interagency communication, Kuni­shige said, explaining that the phone tree among emergency workers was redrawn to branch out instead of run linearly, and instant text-message notifications for staff were used as a backup.

State and county officials also worked to improve their communication since the Japa­nese tsunami to prevent another situation in which boaters prematurely return to the harbors when the all-clear is given.

This time around, the words "all clear" were avoided entirely, and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center instead downgraded the warning to an advisory, which lets people know they can return to their homes but still cautions them to stay out of the water, Kuni­shige said.

In addition, state and county officials made greater use of social media compared with last year. Kuni­shige said the state agency sent out sporadic tweets during the Japa­nese tsunami, but it assigned a staff member Saturday to send out tweets every 10 minutes.

Carlisle agreed that communication Saturday among state and county entities was on point.

"It was a Saturday night when everybody is out and about, and despite that fact we were able to clear the streets and the thoroughfares rapidly and well," he said.

Keoni Wagner, vice president of public affairs for Hawaiian Airlines, said air travel was relatively unaffected by the evacuations. A Maui-bound flight slated to leave Hono­lulu at 10 p.m. and a flight that was to leave Maui for Hono­lulu later Saturday evening were canceled, he said. Sixty-seven Maui-bound passengers stayed in Hono­lulu as a result of the cancellation and were to fly to Maui on Sunday morning.

During the tsunami warning, a Hale­iwa man was killed in a crash on Wili­kina Drive, which was closed.

Police said a speeding vehicle crashed into a Jeep among vehicles parked and waiting for North Shore roads to reopen just south of Kau­kona­hua Road. The force of the crash sent the Jeep into the vehicle in front of it; that vehicle also hit another parked vehicle.

The Jeep burst into flames at 12:19 a.m. Sunday, a witness said. That vehicle's driver was killed, police said.

A Waialua man in the speeding vehicle and a 43-year-old Hale­iwa woman in the vehicle in front of the Jeep went to the hospital in serious condition, officials said. A Wai­alua man and three others in the fourth vehicle — a man and two women — went to a hospital in good condition, police said.

The driver of the speeding vehicle was arrested at the hospital Sunday for investigation of negligent homicide.

A band fundraiser concert at Kapolei High School was canceled as a result of the evacuations, and hundreds of dollars were lost because food was given away instead of sold, one parent said.

Cummings said that even though the tsunami wave was not as big as predicted, there was no false alarm.

"We may have only got a foot wave or a 2-foot wave, but we got a tsunami wave," he said

Cummings said people should keep in mind that disaster can strike the islands at any time, and they should have a plan in place for when it does. "Everyone has to be prepared, have a family disaster plan and maintain a well-stocked disaster supplies kit so you don't have to go down to the store and buy all this stuff while the sirens are going off," he said. "And unfortunately that's what a lot of folks did."

———

Star-Advertiser reporters Kevin Dayton, Craig Gima and Allison Schaefers contributed to this report.






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loquaciousone wrote:
Deadly accidents in our area are becoming as frequent as water main breaks. Why do we have so many lolo with license to drive?
on October 29,2012 | 03:08AM
allie wrote:
agree..the real danger Saturday was being on the road
on October 29,2012 | 06:32AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
The driver of the speeding vehicle who was arrested also has bench warrants for other violations. Need to bring the hammer down on these individuals who don't care about the havoc they cause. Long, long jail term but then again, we're talking about our judiciary system and parole board.
on October 29,2012 | 06:47AM
allie wrote:
agree
on October 29,2012 | 12:26PM
IAmSane wrote:
Hawaii has some of the worst drivers in the nation, to be honest.
on October 29,2012 | 08:02AM
kennie1933 wrote:
I've been driving for over 30 years now and in all that time, I think the major major problem comes down to one thing: IMPATIENCE! With the growing population and more cars on the road, there is also more traffic. I see cars weaving in and out of lanes on the H-1 just trying to get a few cars ahead, I see people cheating in emergency lanes, speeding, tailgating.... We're on an island, people! All the lane changing will get you there three minutes ahead of all the people you passed! Same with speeding and lane cheating. If you're always consistently late, maybe waking up earlier and getting on the road earlier would help. This was probably the cause of the mass traffic jam, too. At home, I saw the first warning at about 7:30, three hours before the first wave was supposed to hit. I'm sure there were earlier warnings, too.
on October 29,2012 | 08:29AM
MrMusubi wrote:
U haven't driven in downtown SF during AM or PM rush hour.
on October 29,2012 | 02:27PM
IAmSane wrote:
I've been down to The Bay a few times, but I can't say that I've ever driven there (only public transportation). The impression that I got was that the drivers there are noticeably aggressive and assertive, but I wouldn't necessarily say that that makes them bad drivers.
on October 29,2012 | 04:18PM
control wrote:
Maybe one of the changes to consider is to mandate the closure of stores and gas stations in and along evacuation routes at the time the alert is given. Public safety is far more important than greed and poor preparation by others.
on October 29,2012 | 05:27AM
swimmy808 wrote:
Perhaps a good idea, but those businesses will be upset. Better planning by individuals need to be practiced regularly.
on October 29,2012 | 06:27AM
lowtone123 wrote:
Once the tsunami warning is called all businesses in an evac zone are supposed to close to allow everyone to leave the area.
on October 29,2012 | 09:46AM
bender wrote:
I disagree that things went smoothly. As the expected arrival time came and passed we could see traffic jams around the island in low lying areas while watching TV. Fortunately nothing came ashore, otherwise those folks who were trying to evacuate would have been caught up. In my area, we were being told to evacuate even though we were not in the inudation zone as published in the telephone book and the online maps.
on October 29,2012 | 05:47AM
allie wrote:
true,,,not at all smooth.
on October 29,2012 | 06:33AM
bender wrote:
One other thing. I was watching TV that evening and never saw any civil defense alerts on TV. In the past we have seen banners gonig across the top or bottom of our TV screens telling us to tune in to local stations to receive information of an emergency nature. And I thought those were also tested monthly. And we used to hear similar announcements over the radio. Do they no longer do that?
on October 29,2012 | 06:53AM
hukihei wrote:
I saw the banner before the sirens were sounded and was able to call my son and his family to tell them to evacuate. Shortly afterwards the sirens sounded.
on October 29,2012 | 07:06AM
allie wrote:
I saw it on CNN at first and well before local TV picked it up
on October 29,2012 | 12:27PM
wymom wrote:
We were watching tv...not a local channel either (CLOO, from hawaiiantelcom tv), & there was a large full screen graphic that said there was a tidal wave warning. So we tuned into channel 2 & the local channels, where they were already doing updates. But you know, I signed up for NIXLE, which sends text messages to your cell phone from Civil Defense & Board of Water & Police etc. I got a text saying there was a 7.1 earthquake off British Columbia, but no tsunami generated--this was late afternoon. I understand they didn't know at 1st. But NIXLE never sent another text saying that there WAS a tsunami...we heard about it on tv, & there were the sirens.
on October 29,2012 | 07:14AM
decoburn wrote:
I received the NIXLE message at 8:01 pm of theTsunami warning. Don't know what happened to yours.
on October 29,2012 | 12:10PM
Publicbraddah wrote:
Regarding our low lying areas, is there a plan to evacuate smoothly? It sure doesn't seem like we do. This incident definitely exposed our weaknesses in our emergency system. I thought the monthly test of our sirens were to make sure the sirens work but in fact, not all did. It worked in Mililani but not in some areas of Honolulu. That traffic mess in Ewa could have been avoided with better planning. I can understand why Ewa resident evacuated since it's a low lying area and they probably remember watching videos of the tsunami in Japan. We sure need better planning and perhaps even a test evacuation.
on October 29,2012 | 07:03AM
Jireton wrote:
The notice to evacuate came hours before 10:30. If everyone waits until the last minute to evacuate, no amount of planning is going to help the traffic jam. The people stuck in traffic at the last minute have no one but themselves to blame.
on October 29,2012 | 08:19AM
hilopango wrote:
My husband was in a low-lying area at the time. As soon as I got the text message at 7:15pm, I called him and was out the door to pick him up! No traffic to and from, we were home in less than 10 minutes! It's the people who wait till the last minute who get stuck in traffic. Those who are evacuating at one hour before or less should ONLY be the essential workers, NOT the undecided, last-minute, or idiotic. For those living in a low-lying, inundation zone, the plan is to PLAN AHEAD! No one is going to direct you or decide for you!
on October 29,2012 | 02:21PM
JoyinHI wrote:
It is so important to take the warnings seriously. We have been lucky these past two experiences!
on October 29,2012 | 06:00AM
CriticalReader wrote:
Thank goodness Jeremy Harris hasn't been Mayor through these recent tsunami incidents. If he were, the "all clear" still wouldn't have been announced.
on October 29,2012 | 06:31AM
allie wrote:
Trouble with Jeremy is, as I hear it, that himself is not clear of his ethical problems he had as mayor
on October 29,2012 | 06:34AM
burymeagain wrote:
WHAT???!?!?
on October 29,2012 | 02:45PM
hukihei wrote:
Having seen what happend in Sri Lanka, I am grateful for our warning system and government's insistence on evacuation.
on October 29,2012 | 07:05AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
Hey people, our search for village idiots has been solved. I watched TV coverage and saw several people by the Waikiki groin who gathered to watch the event. I know it sounds a little uncaring but I was hoping a giant wave would come and sweep these people out of the gene pool. I can't believe people who are ordinarily intelligent would have suicidal tendencies.
on October 29,2012 | 07:06AM
lowtone123 wrote:
That's because technology hasn't yet created an idiot siren.
on October 29,2012 | 07:54AM
all_fed_up wrote:
I was kinda wishing the same thing.....not to have them get seriously hurt or anything. But just to scare the sh@t out of those geniuses.
on October 29,2012 | 09:04AM
Jonas wrote:
You may be giving too much credit when you say "ordinarily intelligent." LOL
on October 29,2012 | 09:55AM
patk wrote:
Publicbraddah, agree 1000%. I was hoping for the same. Also, there should be laws exempting Search & Rescue personnel from having to help idiots. No one should be obligated to assist in any way. Seeing them getting tossed about in the water would be pretty funny - I have no sympathy or compassion for stupid.
on October 29,2012 | 10:41AM
username_required wrote:
Does state or Oahu civil defense have any direct social media presence? Just wondering. Japan has mobile apps warning of earthquakes with alerts that you can customize for your location and severity.
on October 29,2012 | 07:07AM
MANDA wrote:
I don't count this as a good experience. Like others I've spoken to, I'm tired of being the guinea pig for these false alarms, and tired of watching & hearing police cars scream up & down an empty Ala Moana Blvd, 50 mph, sirens blaring.
on October 29,2012 | 07:10AM
patk wrote:
Right on, way to be ignorant, selfish and intolerant. You da man.
on October 29,2012 | 10:44AM
4watitsworth wrote:
I don't consider this a false alarm. Waves weren't as big as predicted which is great news. It may be inconvenient to prepare for a disaster which may not pan out but it's ALWAYS better to be safe than sorry. I'm glad you're not involved in disaster management.
on October 29,2012 | 12:40PM
charlesu wrote:
I was very disapointed in the NIXEL warning system. The restaurant we were in announced over the PA about the tsunami a half hour before the NIXEL warning..
on October 29,2012 | 07:11AM
loquaciousone wrote:
I used to have Nixel warnings but after the Japan earthquake I turned it off. That bugga was going off every 10 minutes and driving me nuts.
on October 29,2012 | 08:03AM
patk wrote:
So it's everyone else's fault that your existence wasn't catered to in a timely manner during a chaotic emergency situation. What a joke. NIXLE is a FREE service. Civil defense does the best they can. They have a million things to do, but oh the horror, your personal frickin cell wasn't the number one priority? How could that be? TEXT MESSAGING AND CELL SERVICE WAS GETTING FLOODED AND WAS NOT WORKING PROPERLY. AND EMAIL, WELL WHO CARES. YOU ALREADY KNEW ABOUT IT ANYWAY SO CIVIL DEFENSE DID THEIR JOBS, STOP WHINING.
on October 29,2012 | 11:01AM
McCully wrote:
It's a good thing Costco wasn't open, it would have been a major traffic mess.
on October 29,2012 | 07:22AM
patk wrote:
They should have opened their gas stations just to see the chaos and bloody violence that would ensue.
on October 29,2012 | 11:05AM
kennie1933 wrote:
I hope this is a lesson in planning ahead. Thankfully, there were noe really damaging waves, and let's also be thankful we are not living in the northeast at this moment where Hurricane Sandy is right off the coast. Hope for the best for all those people!
on October 29,2012 | 07:44AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
In other news, Craigslist is swamped with offers to sell rice, toilet paper, bottled water and spam at deep discounts.
on October 29,2012 | 08:29AM
RetiredWorking wrote:
The last-minute panic shoppers either couldn't afford what they bought, don't have room to store what they bought, or just want their $$ back. Until the next emergency crisis/tsunami/hurricane/volcano eruption/blockade/embargo.
on October 29,2012 | 08:50AM
patk wrote:
The panic shoppers all return to the markets and demand refunds. They really do, as they think that the markets are their own personal disaster resource.
on October 29,2012 | 11:11AM
heluhelu wrote:
"... but all agree that it went as well as it could have" Thanks for confirming: Mr. Carlisle *is* a 1-term mayor, Mr. Abercrombie *should* be a 1-term gov.
on October 29,2012 | 08:45AM
JamieGo wrote:
My only question with this whole thing, and maybe city officials need to look at this, is why were the municipal lots downtown still requiring people to pay for the parking when there was an emergency evacuation going on? I was at the downtown howlabaloo event when HPD came by around 8 pm telling everyone the party was shut down and people needed to evacuate. I went to my car, as did many others, and was stuck in the parking lot for almost 45 minutes trying to get out of downtown. Sure there was some traffic but it was moving rather smoothly on the surface streets out of downtown. But part of the holdup was the parking attendant continued to collect the parking fees so that only one car could exit at a time. Why couldn't it be like the northeast where they announced that all toll roads would be free and people should just proceed out of the area during the evacuation. I mean, I don't care that I had to pay $3 but to keep people stuck in their vehicles in a garage during an evacuation seems a bit ridiculous. JMHO
on October 29,2012 | 09:29AM
lowtone123 wrote:
You're right. It would seem the right thing to do because it is in an evac area that the operator of the garage should have open the gate so everyone could move to safety as quickly as possible. This probably wasn't done because the owner or manager hadn't alerted the staff to do so.
on October 29,2012 | 09:51AM
patk wrote:
Good point. But if the the municipal lots are run by private companies (i can't remember), they would rather you die than give up their fees and profit.
on October 29,2012 | 11:17AM
heluhelu wrote:
Sorry but this is STILL hilarious in a fright-night kind of way: "But all agree that it went as well as it could have given the short time frame emergency responders had in which to act." HELLO? Do "all agreed" even know the DEFINITION of emergency? As in an unforeseen event that demands IMMEDIATE attention, e.g., an event where responders MUST act in the SHORTEST time possible? Locked evacuation centers HOURS after residents are ORDERED to evacuate? Broken sirens? Uncoordinated messages which encourage MORE traffic when panicky drivers heed advisories to stock-up on supplies whereas the correct, orderly, SAFEST time to stock up is *before* or *after* such emergencies -- NOT *during*? Not a peep from State Civil Defense Directors Darryll Wong or Doug Mayne on the status of CD activities, incl evacuation procedures & evacuation centers access? Auwe. Better lucky than sorry is right. Because Hawai'i was truly lucky Saturday's sorry leadership didn't cost more lives.
on October 29,2012 | 10:08AM
heluhelu wrote:
Sorry but this is STILL hilarious in a fright-night kind of way: "But all [agreed] that it went as well as it could have given the short time frame emergency responders had in which to act." HELLO? Do "all agreed" even know the DEFINITION of emergency? As in an unforeseen event that demands IMMEDIATE attention, e.g., an event where responders MUST act in the SHORTEST time possible? "Went well?" Locked evacuation centers HOURS after residents are ORDERED to evacuate? Broken sirens? Uncoordinated messages that encouraged MORE vehicular traffic when panicky drivers heed advisories to stock-up on supplies whereas the correct, orderly, SAFEST time to stock up was *before* or *after* such emergencies -- NOT *during*? Not a peep from State Civil Defense Directors Darryll Wong or Doug Mayne on the status of CD activity, including evacuation procedures & evacuation center access? Auwe. Better lucky than sorry is right. Because Hawai'i was very lucky Saturday's sorry leadership didn't cost more lives.
on October 29,2012 | 10:15AM
patk wrote:
Yet again, many whiny posters/commenters thinking everything should go perfectly smooth during a short-notice emergency disaster. State Government and Civil defense can't hold your hands and change your diapers for you. It's up to the people to do their part and be prepared. State Gov't has tons of material, advice and information available to help with preparing for disasters in ADVANCE. Which does not mean public screaming and whining during and after an emergency. Construction criticism sent to State = Smart. Whining on public message boards = Dumb.
on October 29,2012 | 11:28AM
juscasting wrote:
So true. Thanks. Just I stroke of luck my wife and I had gone grocery shopping earlier that afternoon at Tamura's Waianae. Som ting in my belly told me to stock up on green bottles for the evening. Just kicked back and watched the caos as everyone else on the coast panicked! Had a tri-fuel generator for many years now so power is never an issue either. Plan..Plan..Plan..It's not if, it's when it will happen!!!
on October 29,2012 | 11:46AM
allie wrote:
still have no clue why people were rushing to get groceries and gas before a tiny wave hit. Real danger was being on the road
on October 29,2012 | 12:28PM
kennie1933 wrote:
Exactly right! We always have at least 2 cases of water, canned food, and a couple of those portable gas burners. We rotate out the water and food every so often. We also try not to run the cars down to near empty. Everyone should have some sort of plan, the same way you have a fire escape plan. What? Don't have one of those, either? Hope you at least have a guardian angel as Plan B.
on October 29,2012 | 12:22PM
Anonymous wrote:
Really? No major glitches or problems? Get real, people were being stupid as ever during a tsunami warning event and instead of listening to what their elected officials said to do, they go and do the opposite as usual! They said to evacuate Waikiki, and what happens? Most numb-nuts jump in their cars to go down to Waikiki to see what the heck is going on! So many people rushed out to buy bottled water, batteries, candles and emergency foodstuff's, all at the last minute instead of being prepared before hand! Then we have the Star Advertiser BS'ing that everything went smoothly enough, to print it in their newspaper, such ignorance and stupidity should not and never ever be tolerated, and yet every time the State of Hawaii gets a Tsunami warning, it's citizens go out and do the same thing over and over and over again, never learning from their last minute mistakes! It's too late if you see that giant wall of water bearing down on you, when your driving down the coastal highway!
on October 29,2012 | 06:48PM
chstephie wrote:
A little geography lesson for the Starbulletin Reporters of this story: Excerpt: "Hawaii was put under a tsunami warning by the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center at about 7 p.m. Saturday after a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck off the west coast of Canada near British Columbia about two hours earlier." For the record Star Bulletin the westcoast of Canada IS British Columbia NOT near British Columbia...British Columbia is a province on the WESTCOAST of Canada...The Earth Quake epic centre was up the Northcoast of B.C. below the Island of Haida Gwaii... Happy to hear that all was fine around the hawaiian islands...it went good for us as well here on the north tip of Vancouver Island no tsunami but a good shake from the earthquake
on October 29,2012 | 10:46PM
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