By Lori Dengler.

2009, Humboldt State University.

The layover in Honolulu has had some positive outcomes. I was able to visit with Chip McCreery, the geophysicist in charge of Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) and Brian Yanagi of ITIC. I first met Chip in 1997 when I was in Hawaii working on the strategic plan for the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP). He was the director of ITIC at that time – it was a tiny office, just Chip and a part time staff person. Since then Chip moved toPTWC, the 2004 tsunami happened and both PTWC and ITIC have expanded. I had an informal discussion with Chip about what worked and what didn’t work quite so well during the Samoa tsunami alerts. A fortuitous factor was that Vasily Titov, NOAA’s top tsunami modeler and other members of the NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory’s modeling program happened to be at PTWC doing a training on how to run the new SIFT (Short-term Inundation Forecasting for Tsunamis) tsunami forecasting tool. Note – there are a lot of acronyms in the tsunami world. So they were able to assist in both the forecasts and in the discussions as the event ran its course. This was the first time SIFT was used in a fully operational manner at both tsunami warning centers. While it’s a great tool – it could use a little refining to make it easier to use in an operational sense. Unlike the other forecast tools, its output doesn’t automatically insert into messaging, and folks spent a lot of time writing things down on scraps of paper to later insert into messages. SIFT also creates simulations at a number of sites, producing a number of different screens and window all overlain on the same computer, making it sometimes hard to find the screen you want. But it’s a huge step forward and these are minor bugs that shouldn’t be too difficult to work out. When I first started working on tsunami issues, the idea of using modeling as a forecast tool dueing an actual event was unheard of. One other lesson had to do with the importance of a good PR person. Delores Clark, NOAA’s long term expert Public Affairs person, was on another assignment during the tsunami event and her replacement wasn’t nearly as skilled at managing the media, inadvertently letting them all into the operations core ofPTWC – not a good idea have cameras and news folks intermixed with the forecasters trying to work the event. This is an important lesson – make sure the rules for back up public relations people are well spelled out.

I’ve known Brian Yanagi for a long time too. He was the State of Hawaii emergency services representative to the NTHMP from 1996 until 2005, lasting about 2 years longer as an NTHMP rep than I did. After the 2004 tsunami ITIC was able to expand and Brian joined ITIC director Laura Kong in international tsunami trainings and outreach efforts. I missed Laura on this trip – she is in Vanuatu at the moment. Brian took me to a viewing a the movie “The Third Wave”, a documentary about a volunteer relief effort in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. This was the only showing at the Hawaiian International Film festival. It is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to putting you into the post tsunami aftermath and the volunteers who cobble together a long term relief-recovery program are inspiring.

And check out an interesting way of using Google for photos and eyewitness accounts at: http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/2917454/Map-Tsunami-strikes-Samoa

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