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City to sharpen evacuation plans, tsunami signs

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    Drivers were alerted of the tsunami warning from a sign on the Ward Avenue overpass.

The city has launched a yearlong project to study tsunami inundation zones and determine where improved escape routes or clear signs are needed to better inform the public of where to go during a tsunami warning and evacuation.

The Oahu Emergency Evacuation Plan Project, announced Wednesday, is funded by a $500,000 grant from the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization with matching funds from the city.

Planners say they expect to finish work by September.

"Confusion is our enemy here and information is our best tool to basically crowd that out of the picture," said Robert Collins, project leader and senior planner for Atkins North America, a mainland-based engineering and consulting company that has worked with coastal cities across the country in developing evacuation plans and routes.

The project aims to analyze communities across the island to determine challenges they face in evacuating residents and tourists during a tsunami warning. Analyses would help planners determine where to place signs for tsunami evacuation areas and develop strategies to minimize traffic congestion.

Signs would be similar to those on Hawaii island that inform travelers when they are entering or leaving a tsunami evacuation zone.

Collins said the project will begin with existing evacuation maps and collect additional data on hazards communities face, their vulnerabilities in evacuations, steps individual communities are already taking, behavioral statistics and other criteria to make recommendations to the city Department of Emergency Management.

"We will then be on the hook to develop strategies to minimize the amount of congestion," Collins said. "Our plans are to look at these roadways in careful detail and then develop the strategies that would keep all of this evacuation traffic from turning a lot of those evacuation routes into parking lots."

Data will be collected and stored in a geographic information system that will be available for a variety of applications, including Internet maps and mobile apps that could pinpoint a person’s location and provide directions to the nearest evacuation route, planners said.

"Having clear signage on the ground and identification of evacuation routes helps with the mobile apps," said George Atta, a partner at Group 70 International, one of the local firms assisting with the project. "Even as you get your mobile app and you’re driving, if a guy drives and doesn’t know where to make a right or left turn, if the signage is there it’s easier for the guy."

Other local participants include Solutions Pacific LLC, Martin and Chock Inc., the University of Hawaii Sea Grant Program and Dewberry and Davis LLC.

Officials said a key part of the project would be comments solicited from community groups and neighborhood boards.

Jay Oku of the North Shore Disaster Plan said his disaster preparedness group has been working with the police and fire departments to spread information on evacuation routes and welcomed the formation of the assessment group.

"I’m just glad we’re finally getting some rubber hitting the road and we’re getting some attention for an important cause," Oku said.

Antya Miller, executive director of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, called the study long overdue.

"We’ve been asking for evacuation routes and tsunami signs like they have on the Big Island," she said. "Now they’re doing it on an islandwide basis, which I think is going to be very helpful to everyone."

Carlene MacPherson of the Kailua Disaster Preparedness Subcommittee said areas of Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe Bay and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam already have signs similar to Hawaii island’s. She said consistency across Oahu would be a significant benefit for residents and tourists.

"I’m from Kailua, but I’m in Hono­lulu today. I don’t know where the evacuation zones are, but if I see that sign and I know I’m crossing in, I’m more aware," she said. "Where you live you may know. You’ve got to know where you work, where you go to church, when you go visit tutu — are those evacuation zones? This will help people be more aware."

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