Civil Defense seizes temblor as time for tsunami alert test
HILO » The Thanksgiving Day earthquake gave state Civil Defense officials a chance to test new procedures for keeping the public informed about the threat of tsunami after a seismic event. The 5.0-magnitude earthquake did little damage but state Civil Defense vice director Ed Teixeira opted to use the Emergency Alert System to reassure the public that the quake did not generate a tsunami.
It was the first time the state used the system to announce there was no tsunami risk after an earthquake.
Officials took the step after critics said the state should have done a better job informing residents after last month's 6.7-magnitude earthquake, the most powerful quake to hit Hawaii in more than two decades.
Civil Defense officials knew there was no threat of a tsunami after that jolt but didn't publicly say so until almost three hours afterward. Some residents complained they wanted that information earlier.
Despite the new procedures, civil defense officials weren't able to get out their tsunami message as quickly as they wanted on Thursday.
Ray Lovell, state Civil Defense spokesman, said officials hadn't yet formalized what steps they would take to issue the post-quake tsunami all-clear message and so it wasn't sent out until 9:57 a.m. -- about 37 minutes after the jolt.
"In the future, what we hope to do is get a message out to the public within five to 10 minutes," Lovell said. "Knowing that large portions of the state may feel it, it's important to get a message out quickly that no tsunami has been generated."
On the Big Island, the quick dissemination of information about the quake and the likelihood of tsunami was hampered by a power outage on part of the island.
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim was in contact with local radio stations to offer a report less than 10 minutes after the 9:20 a.m. earthquake. But most radio stations serving Kona were off the air because the power was out from Puuanahulu to Kalaoa.
Electricity was restored about 90 minutes later.