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Hawaii Hams Spurred to Action by Chilean Earthquake


On Saturday, February 27, 60 Amateur Radio operators participated in a tsunami radio net that operated throughout the island State of Hawaii. More than 25 real-time reports from observers around the state were relayed simultaneously to the State Emergency Operating Center (EOC) and the four county EOCs, providing timely information via Amateur Radio on sea level changes to emergency management officials.

According to Ron Hashiro, AH6RH, emergency managers in Hawaii had been preparing for a tsunami from Chile for many years, following the 1960 tsunami -- following an earthquake in Chile -- that decimated Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. Prior to 1960, tsunamis inflicted damage to Hawaii every 17 years on average. "The 14 hour travel time for the tsunami wave provided ample time for Amateur Radio operators to assemble and coordinate a response plan," Hashiro told the ARRL. "The wave action in Hilo Bay would be of extreme interest as it would be among the earliest signs of the potential for destruction for this tsunami event." Hashiro is the Hawaii State Civil Defense (SCD) ARES®/RACES Coordinator.

Hashiro said that activity started at 8:47 PM on Friday, February 26 when key Amateur Radio operators were alerted to the 8:34 PM 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile. ARRL Pacific Section Emergency Coordinator Kevin Bogan, AH6QO -- who is also a State Warning Point Officer with Hawaii SCD -- received notification while he was at home preparing for his 10 PM shift. Bogan activated the Hawaii ARES® in response and then headed to the State EOC for his assigned shift where he assisted in the coordination between State ARES®/RACES and the Hawaii SCD.

Hashiro told the ARRL that he received a bulletin via text message from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) at 9:02 PM and began activating the ARES®/RACES response for Oahu and the State as he returned home to further monitor the progress via the Internet and phone calls. "Coordination was handled on radio via the AH6CP UHF repeater, text messages, phone calls, Facebook and Twitter, as we awaited the evaluation and escalation to a tsunami warning," he said. "The PTWC issued the warning at 12:46 AM on Saturday, and final ham radio net instructions were relayed via the HIHAM and HAMRADIOHAWAII e-mail reflectors, Facebook and Twitter. Radio operations were to commence with the sounding of the warning sirens across the state at 6 AM. The 6:01 AM net was a bulletin-only net with instructions for starting operations at 7 AM, giving the operators time to undertake preparations."

Amateur Radio operators reported to the State and County EOCs. Hashiro, Robin Liu, AH6CP, and Mitch Pinkerton, KH6MP, responded to the State Civil Defense EOC in Diamond Head crater to operate nets on the State RACES VHF Repeater network and 7088 kHz HF. A number of SCD staff members who are also hams reported in for their normal work assignments

Chuck Oh, N6NCT, Russell Houlton, WH7O, and Jeff Sue, AH6IX, activated ham radio operations at the Department of Emergency Management County EOC in Honolulu, complementing DEM staff member Harold Buckle's, KH6HB, work activities. "The DEM EOC was packed full of personnel from many organizations," Hashiro said, "leaving room for only three ham operators. Twelve other ham responders were scheduled into shifts should the tsunami proved to be destructive."

ARRL Pacific Section Manager Bob Schneider, AH6J, and Harvey Motomura, AH6JA, operated at the Hawaii County EOC in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, while Mel Fukunaga, KH6H, began operations at the Maui County EOC in Wailuku. In addition, Jack Tsujimura, KH6DQ, activated the HealthComm net for the hospitals on VHF and UHF. A net for the Church of Latter Day Saints was activated on a VHF repeater on Oahu. Operations also took place on the IRLP linked VHF and UHF repeaters on Maui. The Big Island activated nets on the BIWARN around-the-island VHF/UHF repeater system and the emergency VHF repeater atop the summit of Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain peak in the Hawaiian Islands. Rick Ching, KH7O, the Hawaii Repeater Coordinator, repurposed an EchoLink setup and connected it to the State RACES VHF network, feeding audio under the EchoLink name "Hawaii Tsunami.

"Check-in nets were run at the top of each hour to test the EOC equipment and to monitor the availability of operators and their locations," Hashiro explained. "The state-wide tsunami net started at 10:45 AM with check-ins and position reports. The real-time tactical messages were monitored in each of the four county EOCs. Tight net discipline was maintained and only positive sightings of ocean changes were solicited and handled. Operators who were unfamiliar with tactical messaging and tsunami reporting were coached over the air by the net control station into crafting their reports with the key information of interest to the emergency management officials."

At 10:55 AM, James Brown, K9BCI -- who lives on the Big Island, 13 miles south of Captain Cook Island -- reported that waves near the underwater AuAu canyon were breaking at 50 yards offshore where the white caps were not previously observed. At 11:15, Laney Azevedo, WH7WX -- located on the Hamakua Coast on the Big Island in the Honolii area overlooking Hilo Bay -- reported light waves crashing over the water break that were not there before. "These were the earliest reports of sea level changes, many made from radio operators on the scene with their vehicles or handhelds," Hashiro said.

These voice messages were transcribed into e-mails and sent to key SCD staff. Hashiro and the State Warning Point staff took the messages and entered it directly into SCD's informational and reporting systems. "These timely incoming messages were posted onto 50 inch plasma display screens within moments and were made available to the PCs connected to the reporting system," Hashiro recounted. "The Governor and SCD staff viewed the information well before the sea level changes became visible on Web cams and television news feeds. At the same time, amateurs in the four county EOCs were able to receive the same radio reports for informational updates for their EOCs."

Other operators traced the ocean changes around the Big Island, then to the harbors and rivers on Maui, Oahu and Kauai, Hashiro told the ARRL. Receding water levels on the order of 2-3 feet and 5-6 feet were reported as the various waves moved through the island chain. Real-time reporting ended at 1:08 PM and the tsunami warning for Hawaii was cancelled at 1:38 PM.

"The location reports, time-stamps and timeliness with estimates of the water height information demonstrated the professionalism of the Amateur Radio operators to the SCD staff operations and to the Governor," Hashiro said. "SCD Vice Director Ed Teixeira was again extremely pleased and grateful for these reports and extends his thanks to the Amateur Radio community for another outstanding job well done."  -- Thanks to Ron Hashiro, AH6RH, for the information



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