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Tsunami Warning In Hawaii (A Review)

We knew about the 8.8 earthquake in Chile on Friday evening. Of course, we were concerned about the destruction and loss of life in Chile, but our thoughts quickly turned to the possibility of a Pacific tsunami. In 1960, a 9.5 earthquake in the same area produced a tsunami that killed 61 people in Hilo, Hawaii (on the Big Island).

Luckily, a tsunami takes time to travel from Chile to Hawaii. At first we were under a tsunami watch which soon became a tsunami warning, meaning a tsunami was likely. In fact, they knew the more or less exact time when it would first arrive in Hawaii -- 11:19 a.m. This later change to 11:05 a.m., but the main thing was that we had a long time to prepare.

In Hawaii, we are always ready for hurricanes. Preparing for a tsunami was pretty similar for those of us who live inland (away from the shore). My house is on pretty high ground, about a mile form the Aloha Stadium. Getting ready for the tsunami, in my case, meant stockpiling water. My family already had everything else required for hurricanes (and then some). In fact, I had just redone my hurricane kits and bought two large, heavy plastic, storage cases for all the supplies.

I filled eight, 7 gallon water carriers, and a 55 gallon water barrel, in addition to numerous other smaller water containers. This sounds like a lot, but there were concerns that a tsunami could damage our water system. I believe that there was talk about turning the water off on some islands. After watching recovery efforts in Haiti, I decided that having clean drinking water was really important. I also purchased water purification systems (filters and pills) so that we could purify, if necessary, the 200 gallons of water in our four, 55 gallon rain barrels. Plus, we could boil water and use bleach.

Here on Oahu, there was no disruption of any of our utilities.

Also, we were really lucky that the tsunami warning was on a Saturday, when most people were at home, and our weather was really nice (sunny, with little wind). It actually was a beautiful day.

Evacuating people from the shore area (inundation zones) seemed to be the focus of the emergency effort. Sirens sounded at 6 a.m. to alert people. I can't remember when the sirens were sounded, except for tests. It was a little chilling, except for the fact that we already had been watching the news since the previous night. Sirens were also sounded periodically as the arrival time neared.

Actually, at 3 a.m, my wife and I went to our office to get copies of certain files (in case the office building was closed due to a tsunami). On the way home, we stopped for gas and there were already lines. An hour later, my wife and I went to top off another car, and the lines were longer. People were also going to stores to buy emergency supplies (mostly water and food).

Government workers closed roads and restricted access to the shore areas. This did not affect my family, since we just stayed home.

As you probably know, the tsunami did arrive but was smaller than predicted. Some people will say that the civil defense and tsunami workers overreacted, but I would disagree. It is far better to be safe than sorry. Given the previous loss of life here, I think that the steps taken were prudent. They were also a good test of the system and good practice for all of us.

One interesting thing was watching the shore at Hilo via a webcam at the BJ Penn website. This was shown on the local and national stations. Way to go BJ!

Living on islands, we have to be prepared for disasters. We can't just drive to another state. Hopefully, our experience yesterday will make people realize the need to be even more prepared. Whether for hurricanes, tsunami, earthquakes, or pandemics, we need to have good emergency kits. If they say that you should have 3 days worth of supplies, I would prefer to have 2 weeks worth (for each person in the family).

This might be because my father was in the military. Growing up on military bases, we always took emergency preparedness seriously. Military people don't complain in such situations -- they get to work and focus on the situation. Emergency preparedness becomes the mission and you concentrate on the mission until it is completed. You don't complain and you don't waste time. I also was a Boy Scout, and we essentially had the same attitude as military people. The motto is "Be prepared." That is a good motto for everyone.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Chile and the region. I also want to thank the emergency and government workers who worked hard to keep us safe here in Hawaii. I think they did not sleep for two days. If a similar event happened again, I hope that they will work just as hard. The fact that the tsunami was smaller than expected should not make any difference. We should be just a prepared and just as cautious the next and every time. The first time we let our guard down will probably the time the disaster is real.

As Karate students, we prepare for an unexpected attack. We should also be prepared for disasters.

So now I have a lot of stored water. It cost nothing and I will use it to water plants over the next few weeks -- until the next time.


Charles C. Goodin