Is Hawaii Any Safer a Year After a Major Earthquake? - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Is Hawaii Any Safer a Year After a Major Earthquake?

Maj. Gen. Robert Lee Maj. Gen. Robert Lee
Darren Pai Darren Pai
Brian Sekiguchi Brian Sekiguchi
Duane Okamoto Duane Okamoto

By Leland Kim

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- Last October's major earthquake not only rattled the state, it also revealed flaws in Hawaii's emergency plans.  The 6.7-magnitude quake off the Big Island caused power outages and more than $200 million in damages.  Now a year later, are we any safer? 

Many agencies have been part of a collaborative effort to beef up Hawaii's emergency response system.  And while nothing's a hundred percent, they say, we are much safer.

Collapsed buildings and deep cracks on the road shocked Hawaii residents after an early morning earthquake a year ago.  And blackouts forced people to look for ice, food and other essentials.

A year later, a team of public and private sector leaders say, emergency response improvements have made the state safer.  A new system helps with response time after an earthquake.

"We know that the automatic system works," said Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, director of the State Civil Defense.  "We've had a few earthquakes, the aftershocks on the Big Island on Thanksgiving, numerous Japan earthquakes, Solomon Islands, and even the one off of Peru."

And Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) has taken steps to reduce the risk of a blackout during a major earthquake, by improving its safety relays.

"One of the main things we've done is that we've addressed the safety relays, which could falsely lock out the two largest generating power units of the Kahi power plant," said Darren Pai, a HECO spokesperson.  "What happened during the earthquake is that the vibrations caused those relays to lock out and what that did was those units lost their ability to maintain power input and eventually they tripped off line, and what we've done is modified those units and replaced those relays."

Hawaii's airports have also beefed up their backup power systems.  Most neighbor island systems -- with the exception of Kona -- have been improved to be at a hundred percent.  Honolulu International Airport's backup system went from about 15 percent to 66 percent.

"It is an interim solution," said Brian Sekiguchi, airports deputy director for the Department of Transportation.  "We are designing a backup power plant with Hawaiian Electric. It's called joint use energy system, that would basically provide a hundred percent back up power."

It's expected to constructed by mid 2009.

While many improvements have been made, some repairs have yet to begun.  Work on the Big Island's Kohala ditch system is scheduled to begin soon.  And damage to lower Hamakua have made things difficult for Big Island farmers.

"Lower Hamakua is kind of problematic," said Duane Okamoto, Department of Agriculture's deputy director.  "The extent of the damage is such and the inaccessibility is such that it will be at least several month before we see that fully restored."

Working to improve Hawaii's infrastructure after one of the biggest earthquake's in state history.

State Civil Defense also said improved technology will better prepare us for tsunamis and other natural disasters.

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