It took nearly four hours between the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center's first bulletin to when it sent out a tsunami Advisory Tuesday. The Center's director Chip McCreery said scientists needed the time to evaluate data.
"We wouldn't have wanted to put us in a warning if it was unnecessary and cause an evacuation. And we also wouldn't want to call it off if that was the wrong call," he said.
During those hours the Department of Emergency Management answered telephone calls from people who were anxious for information. But they had no answer for them.
"The only thing we need to balance is that the public wants to know. And from a lack of information, I know that the public was concerned, so we do sympathize with the public," deputy director Peter Hirai said.
McCreery said because there was a 14-hour window between the time the 8.2 earthquake struck Chile to the time Hawaii could be affected, his staff had time to wait for critical readings from the ocean buoys between Chile and Hawaii. The Advisory notice came out after a reading from the fourth buoy.
"When that signal came in it was actually in agreement with our models that said what should happen at that position," McCreery said.
In 2010, PTWC issued a tsunami Warning within three hours after a quake off Chile. But there were fewer buoys back then, so a quicker call was necessary. In 2012, the center was criticized for not posting an Advisory after a quake off Canada's coast. It skipped a Watch notice and went right to a Warning.
"We had larger readings than what we had expected on ocean gauges that were not between us and there, but were way off to the side," McCreery said.
He said if another quake hit Chile and triggered concern for Hawaii, the Tsunami Warning Center would again take time to evaluate the information and not rush to make a call off the cuff.
"If we need more data and we have the time available to us, we'll take that time to make the best possible call," McCreery said.