Hawaii Hams Activate for Tsunami Warning
On Saturday, October 27, radio amateurs in Hawaii responded to a tsunami warning, providing valuable and timely information to emergency management officials. The tsunami was triggered by a magnitude 7.7 earthquake which struck at struck at 5:04 PM HST (0304 UTC on Sunday, October 28) in the Queen Charlotte Islands, located off the coast of British Columbia, Canada.
At 7:14 PM*, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) sent out a tsunami warning and said that the tsunami had an estimated wave arrival time of 10:28 PM. After being notified, Hawaii State Civil Defense RACES Coordinator Ron Hashiro, AH6RH, began notifying Oahu leaders via cell phone while ARRL Hawaii Section Emergency Coordinator Kevin Bogan, AH6QO, began activating the ARES Emergency Coordinators on each island.
“The initial telephone alert process took 12 minutes and radio operators continued the coordination and activation while driving to the Emergency Operations Centers and points of operation,” Hashiro told the ARRL. “Chuck Oh, N6NCT, on Oahu activated the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) RACES organization and eight hams responded to the Oahu EOC. Tom Geier, KH6BLA, served as net control on the DEM net on the 146.88 MHz repeater with 35 hams checking in. Clem Jung, KH7HO, and Rick Kimitsuka, KH6OM, led eight hams in DEM District IV -- along the Windward Coast of Oahu -- and operated on the 146.66 MHz Olomana and 146.64 Laie repeaters and simplex frequencies.”
According to Hashiro, Mel Fukunaga, KH6H, went to the Maui EOC, while Harvey Motomura, AH6JA, went to the Hilo EOC, located on the Big Island. “The Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT) on Upcountry Maui on the slopes of Mt Haleakala responded to provide coverage for the communities in that area,” he explained. “Nancy Kala, WH7XO, coordinated the activities of both hams and non-ham CERT members. Several hams operated on the Healthcomm 80 meter frequency, led by Jack Tsujimura, KH6DQ, who served as net control.”
State Civil Defense (SCD) RACES radio operators arrived onsite at the SCD Emergency Operations Center in Diamond Head Crater and began operations at 8:02 PM. Hashiro and Bogan teamed up as operators on the interisland VHF repeater system, sharing control between a radio and a PC connected to the Allstar controller for the 147.06 MHz repeater -- located on the rim of Diamond Head Crater -- via the Internet. “Larry Sue, AH6SP, manned the 40 meter HF radio, and Robin Liu, AH6CP, ran the Oahu Allstar linked VHF/UHF repeater network,” Hashiro said. “This network is comprised of four linked VHF and UHF repeaters and uses a PC connected via the Internet; it is monitored Hawaii’s Department of Emergency Management (DEM) net on the Diamond Head 146.88 MHz repeater. Messages received via radio were sent by the internal e-mail to both the State Warning Point and Operations Desk.”
Hashiro explained that the nets handled various tactical messages regarding communication checks, the progress of preparations and the arrival of people at the designated tsunami refuge centers, as well as road closures near the waterfront. The sirens on Oahu sounded at 8 PM, which was less than the prescribed three-hour lead time notice normally given for sounding the first sirens. The sirens on Maui sounded at 8:25 PM, and the sirens on the west coast of the Big Island sounded at 8:33 PM, as reported by the resident hams.
At 10 PM, the State Civil Defense net changed reporting formats, going from “normal” to only requesting tactical message traffic that included estimates of changes to the ocean level. But due to darkness and the evacuation, Hashiro said that not many hams were in position to see ocean level changes.
Kalani Ku, WH6KX, was with Maui Police Department officers on the north side of Maui at Kahului Harbor, and passed along timely reports of ocean level changes from each passing wave. “Ku had previous experience reporting wave heights during the February 2010 Chilean tsunami, and at 10:53 PM, he noted the water receding from the harbor by a level of two to three feet,” Hashiro said. “His reports over the next hour of +2 feet and -3 feet changes mirrored the measurements of the tide gauges monitored by the PTWC. The tide gauges at Kahului Harbor recorded the greatest level changes during this event, and Amateur Radio reported the results in real time.”
Dave Garrison, AL4A, monitored and reported the successive waves from the Pacific Whale Foundation location at Maalaea, located near Kihei on Maui’s south shore, with reports ranging from +2 feet and -3 feet. “This was Dave’s first experience filing real-time tsunami reports,” Hashiro noted. “The differing ocean levels reported almost concurrently by Ku and Garrison demonstrated the effects and delay of the tsunami waves from Canada wrapping around the island of Maui.”
Hams at the different EOCs, including the State EOC and the Maui and Oahu County EOCs, received these reports simultaneously and in real time. “At the SCD, the personnel at the county EOCs and the PTWC held periodic video conferences to discuss these recent reports and make forecasts and determinations for the next interim period,” Hashiro told the ARRL. “ARRL Hawaii SEC Kevin Bogan, AH6QO -- who has a regular position as a State Warning Point Supervisor at SCD -- was off duty at the time, but he sat in as a representative of SCD RACES. With the approval of the Operations Chief and Vice Director, Kevin contributed the reports by the hams to the videoconference, which helped the PTWC confirm the assessment and forecast of the prevailing conditions. The determination was made to downgrade the warning to an advisory effective at 12:54 AM on Sunday, October 28.” The SCD net secured at 1:05 AM, and the operators at DEM secured about an hour later.
“This event proved a challenge in getting the initial notification and coordination going,” Hashiro explained. “One of the complicating factors in the initial alert was some team members were looking at the previous PTWC bulletin for Hawaii that didn’t contain the warning for Hawaii. They were fixated on the embedded information product issued by the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center at Palmer, Alaska that contained a regional warning for Washington, Oregon and California only. There was a slight delay to pull up and read the latest Hawaii bulletin to confirm receiving the latest status. Others had subscribed to e-mail alerts from non-government websites, and those relayed the Pacific Ocean bulletins and not the bulletins for Hawaii. That bulletin indicated no wide-spread tsunami threat for the Pacific, and it was not updated for the change in Hawaii status. The other factor was the alert was received on a Saturday evening during the dinner hour.”
Hashiro told the ARRL that one of the changes being looked at is “to identify and task bulletin stations to receive the alert notification early from one of the leaders, and put out a bulletin immediately on the key repeater frequencies, while the rest of the telephone call down list is still in progress. That would keep stations on standby on the net frequencies until the official confirmations are received to formally activate a response. By keeping the nets focused, simplifying the reports and requesting only the essential information to be reported, the radio amateurs involved were able to sustain and accomplish their mission of real-time reporting to the EOCs. Both veteran operators and newcomers were successfully integrated into the various reporting nets.”
* All times are Hawaii Standard Time (+10 UTC) unless otherwise noted.