DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
When an earthquake happens, warning bells go off and these readouts on the wall give time and location data to those at he Pacific Tsunami Warning Center at 91-270 Fort Weaver Road in Ewa Beach. The facility is set to be moved to Pearl Harbor.
Wave risk to Pearl at issue
Some critics question the wisdom of moving the tsunami center to low-lying Ford Island
A national advocacy group and some of the scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center are raising concerns over the facility's planned move to Pearl Harbor because it would be too close to sea level, putting it at greater risk of being hit by a powerful wave.
The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, said it has been contacted by scientists who object to the center's relocation to Ford Island and question the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's reasoning.
"One does not have to be a geophysicist to question the wisdom of placing a key component of our tsunami warning system on a harbor island only a few feet above sea level," PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch said.
Ruch, whose group is expected to issue a press release tomorrow about its concerns, said the center has "critical duties" to perform during a tsunami.
"By putting the tsunami warning center on a harbor island, NOAA is tending its own bureaucratic turf at the expense of public safety," he said.
NOAA is expected to break ground in August on its $240 million regional campus on Ford Island, which will consolidate the agency's various offices across Oahu at one site by 2011. The project would involve the restoration and renovation of several World War II-era buildings and hangars.
NOAA spokeswoman Delores Clark said the new tsunami warning center would be located on the third floor of the complex. She noted that there are no records of any damaging tsunami hitting Pearl Harbor, the hub for the Navy in the Pacific.
Pearl Harbor is also not listed as a tsunami inundation zone by the state, but that could be a result of lack of information provided by the military about the area, the warning center said.
Three other sites were examined, but Ford Island met all of NOAA's requirements, including space for its three research vessels, Clark said.
"The issue wasn't, 'Where were we moving the tsunami warning center?' It was, 'Where can we find a location that will accommodate all of our requirements and offices?' And Ford Island was it," Clark said.
Ruch said consolidating NOAA's operations in Hawaii "has a certain bureaucratic attractiveness, but from the point of view of readiness, it's asinine."
Located in the middle of Pearl Harbor, Ford Island has naval housing and facilities. Many U.S. warships damaged or destroyed by the Japanese during the 1941 attack were moored alongside Ford Island on "Battleship Row."
The advocacy group said the island would have to be evacuated in the event of a tsunami but if the floating bridge is raised, evacuation may not be possible.
In addition, scientists at the tsunami center object to the move because a host of operational and logistical problems and the possibly of nullifying much of the benefit from the $16.7 million currently being spent to upgrade its system, PEER said.
Ruch said his group was contacted by the tsunami center employees because they felt their "own chain of command was not taking the issues they raised seriously."
Stuart Weinstein, acting director of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, said employees have brought up concerns about the move to NOAA.
"Let's just say, there's a range of opinions here at the center regarding the move," he said. "Some people here think it's a good idea. Some people are not quite happy about it."
Weinstein said based on the limited information available, he believes Ford Island would be at least as safe, if not a little safer, than the center's current location in Ewa Beach, which also is at sea level a few hundred yards away from the ocean and on the edge of a tsunami zone.
NOAA said there were concerns brought up by the employees' union, and those issues were taken into consideration.
PEER said Diamond Head crater, home of state Civil Defense facilities and protected by high volcanic slopes, would be a more appropriate location for the tsunami warning center.
"If they're going to move it, move it at least above any foreseeable tsunami wave level," Ruch said.
The group claimed NOAA has rejected an effort to relocate the center inside the crater. But Clark called the claim "inaccurate," saying Diamond Head wasn't even considered as a possible site for the center.
"The agency never did consider Diamond Head," she said. "We weren't looking to move the tsunami waning center, we were looking to consolidate NOAA."