Independent panel should review earthquake response
Some complaints were registered about the Civil Defense response to Sunday's earthquake.
HAWAII seems to have escaped Sunday's earthquake
without fatalities, but the response by the state Civil Defense was less than smooth, triggering some complaints. An independent panel is needed to assess the response by city and state agencies and the media so improvements can be made to prepare for the next disaster.
Because of the rarity of strong earthquakes in Hawaii, the state's preparation has focused on hurricanes and tsunamis. The magnitude 6.7 quake, the most powerful in the islands in more than 30 years, was just short of being a major earthquake capable of widespread, heavy damage.
Several hotels and a hospital on the Big Island sustained significant damage, and Kawaihae Harbor was closed because of structural damage. A Federal Emergency Management Agency computer simulation estimated that the quake could have damaged 170 bridges on the Big Island.
The greatest harm for most residents was the loss of electricity across the state, with the exception of Kauai, Molokai and Lanai. Advances in technology were rendered useless on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island for most people, whose telephones and radios are connected to electrical outlets. Cellular phone systems also were hampered. People who don't already have them might want to make a small investment in transistor radios and simple backup phones with cords.
People with laptop computers and dial-up connections to the Internet found little assistance. The state's Web site contained no information about the situation during the power outage, and dial-up is inadequate in handling audio streams offered by backup generator-equipped KITV and KSSK, the state's designated emergency action system. (The Star-Bulletin, lacking a backup generator, was unable to maintain our Web site during the blackout.)
Morning KSSK personalities Michael W. Perry and Larry Price were helpful in passing on information provided by state Civil Defense, transportation and Hawaiian Electric Co. officials. However, the station's coverage of Gov. Linda Lingle's press conference was essentially inaudible, apparently because of technical problems.
Also, Kaaawa blogger Ian Lind complained that KSSK returned to regular programming after power began to be restored, "leaving those of us who were still without power or news in the dark, both literally and figuratively."
An Oahu condominium association board member said he was swamped with questions by condo owners about why no siren was sounded, as detailed in a handbook distributed by HECO, and whether they should abandon the building.
Public officials naturally are prone to defend their conduct under such circumstances, as are public utility and media executives. An independent panel of experts is necessary to gain the most from a review of the earthquake experience. The next time -- and there will be a next time -- the damage might be greater and the power outage much longer.