A Visit to the Former ‘Tsunami Capital’

The sign below an exhibit at the Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo, Hawaii, claims that Hilo is ‘the tsunami capital of the world.’ Dr George D. Curtis, the scientific advisor to the museum, covered that sign with his hand and said quietly, ‘now, we’ll have to change that.’ That is just one of the things that will have to change in the aftermath of the December 26th Indian Ocean tsunami if the 200,000 lives that were lost are to have meaning. Emergency Operations

The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) of the Civil Defense Building was where we were briefed. It is a neat and organized room with a lot of graphic information up on the walls. As the coordinator, Lanny Nakano, said, “We all have work to do; there is no time to be explaining things to newcomers. The boards give the information needed for the job.” Two of the four sides were layered with movable display boards that the staff kept pulling out at various points in the conversation: evacuation plans; situation reports for different kinds of disasters with space left for new entries; maps with magnetic markers, etc. The third side was full of communication equipment from different kinds of government organizations. The desks were all equipped with phones, ordinary as well as dedicated lines.

When a disaster situation is identified (generally the duty person’s pager is the signal; but all staff are under instructions to activate the process even on the basis of ph