Tsunami Exercise Designed to Tighten Civil Defense Procedures

Media Release – Pictures Provided by County

A tsunami wasn’t really on the way, but the County was preparing for one anyway on Tuesday morning. It was Hawaii County’s first island-wide tsunami alert exercise, a test of the county’s response to a tsunami warning.

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A few minor glitches occurred, but that was part of the exercise. “If we find out where the glitches are now, we can have them straightened out for when the real event occurs,” said County Civil Defense Director Quince Mento.

The County’s Civil Defense, Police, Fire and Public Works departments became busy shortly after 8 a.m. with a simulated warning that a potentially destructive tsunami was on its way from Alaska.

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Works Department employee Sean Knell plants a warning flag at the corner of Kinoole and Mamo streets in downtown

County crews delivered barricades and flag markers to each intersection around the island where traffic would normally be turned away from the designated Tsunami Inundation Zones. Police officers delivered 1,200 flyers to motorists informing them of the exercise and explaining what would have happened had it been a real alert.

“The safety of our island residents is our number one priority and I want to commend Quince Mento and everyone involved for their efforts to ensure that we are prepared in the event of an emergency,” said Mayor Billy Kenoi. “With exercises like this, we can be assured that our County public safety agencies are doing all they can to protect our residents and our community.”

Minute-by minute developments in the exercise were posted in a Web log that can be viewed by State Civil Defense officials on Oahu, a feature that helps state authorities keep track of events on the Big Island and more rapidly respond to any calls for assistance.

Workers in the Civil Defense command post included representatives from nine county departments including police and fire as well as The American Red Cross, the Civil Air Patrol, an organization of ham radio operators, the Hawaii National Guard and a number of state agencies.

As part of the exercise, police around the island simulated “drive through notifications,” traveling the routes they would drive to issue warnings using the public address systems on their vehicles.

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County Police Officer John Stewart handing a motorist a flyer explaining the tsunami exercise at the corner of Kinoole and Ponohawai streets in downtown Hilo

Off-duty dispatchers from the Fire Department dispatch center also simulated shifting their dispatch operation to the Civil Defense command post, a step that would be necessary in a real emergency because the Fire dispatch center is in the tsunami evacuation area.

The county’s new City Watch electronic notification system was used to notify county agencies that the alert was in effect. Mento said a few problems – state highway officials were left off the list, for example — were identified and will be addressed.

Once Civil Defense officials received word that all barricades were delivered to the key intersections and that the intersections were staffed by police officers, the exercise was declared over at 9:45 a.m.

Agencies and departments will be reviewing their response procedures internally in preparation for a county-wide review of the exercise in about 10 days, Mento said.

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