After-action report not completed 2 years after tsunami alert

Published: Feb. 27, 2012 at 5:12 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 28, 2012 at 2:00 AM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – Two years after the state Civil Defense Division began an in-depth analysis of its response to a Hawaii tsunami warning in 2010, the final report has not been completed.

Hawaii News Now has also learned state civil defense officials chose not to conduct a detailed "after-action" review of response to last year's tsunami from Japan that caused tens of millions of dollars of damage in Hawaii.

It's hard to forget images after the March 11 tsunami last year: a two-story house washed into Kealakekua Bay and the tsunami pouring over the seawall and onto the pier on Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii Island.

Dozens of vessels at Keehi Boat Harbor on Oahu were torn from moorings and docks. Some sank while others drifted free, colliding with each other or running aground.

A year before the March tsunami from Japan that caused tens of millions of dollars in damage in Hawaii, the state experienced a tsunami warning after an earthquake in Chile on February 27, 2010.

In 2010, damage in the islands was minimal, after thousands of people evacuated across the state.

Following the 2010 tsunami scare, then-vice director of Civil Defense Ed Teixeira called for an after-action review.

"We'd bring the staff together, go over the procedures," Teixeira said.  "What did we do right?  What did we do wrong?  What needs to be fixed?  What about this plan?  That plan, that procedure?  What's confusing?  Change it right away."

In March of 2010, in the month following the tsunami incident, representatives from nearly 20 federal, state and county agencies met for an afternoon at the Hawaii Convention Center for an extensive debriefing session, Teixeira said.

"It was that important. We thought, 'Hey we better talk about this one," because it was very, very significant," Teixeira said.

Significant, he said, because Hawaii had not experienced a statewide tsunami evacuation since 1994, so Teixeira said it was time to compile a detailed after-action report to learn lessons from the 2010 tsunami warning.

But it took months to compile all the comments from different agencies and Teixeira said he received the first draft of the report in November of 2010.

So the report still hadn't been released to other agencies or the public when the March 2011 tsunami struck the islands.

"Here we are a year and maybe two weeks later, and we get smacked with another one.  And this one's terrifying," Teixeira said.

After the March 2011 tsunami, Teixeira decided not to recommend another detailed after-action review and report on that more serious incident.

"It wasn't a one-day event, where you can say OK, three weeks from now, let's get everybody together and talk about this stuff.  We were in to a response, a real tsunami response, that was very, very difficult," Teixeira said.

Victor Gustafson, the man who took over as interim vice director of civil defense after Teixeira resigned in October of 2011, agreed with Teixeira's decision.

"We were in disaster response.  We needed to get out and help people recover.  We had to make the case, we need public assistance.  We have so much in damages," Gustafson said.

Even though the state had yet to publish the after-action report from the 2010 incident when the 2011 tsunami struck, Gustafson and Teixeira said departments and agencies made improvements anyway.

"It's ongoing. They're not waiting, 'Hey, I'm not going to do anything until I see something in hard copy.'  We're working," Gustafson said.

For instance, Teixeira said the city of Honolulu opened only about five evacuation sites -- many of them at city parks -- during the 2010 tsunami alert, far fewer than their plans called for.

But during the 2011 tsunami, city officials were able to open nearly 25 evacuation sites.

The Hawaii Emergency Preparedness Executive Consortium held a meeting September 8, 2011 at the Japanese Cultural Center to review lessons learned from 2011.  While it was not as detailed a full after-action review, the meeting did highlight several issues that needed improvement following the 2011 tsunami, Teixeira said:

  • Homeowners, boat owners and businesses lacked insurance coverage for tsunami damage.
  • Tsunami damage to homes and businesses reinforced the need for a state individual assistance program.
  • The state needed to improve "all clear" instructions for mariners.
  • Cancellation of the tsunami warning at 7:30 a.m. did not mean ocean conditions were stable.

"The public would be very, very pleased and should feel confident that whatever was said and identified by agencies was acted on right away.  And it showed in the 2011 (tsunami)," Teixeira said.

Teixeira said after working on the tsunami recovery and securing federal disaster money for months, state civil defense staff were increasingly busy with preparations for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, which happened in November 2011, so the report on the 2010 tsunami response wasn't finalized.  State civil defense officials served on six of 21 APEC security-related committees that met more and more frequently as APEC drew closer.

Teixeira resigned in October of 2011 in a dispute with his bosses over who got power to control federal grants. When he left the job, he said that draft after-action report from the 2010 tsunami, containing about 20 recommendations, remained unfinished.

A University of Hawaii organization has since compiled a final draft of the report and delivered it to State Civil Defense at the end of January, Teixeira and Gustafson said.

It's now being circulated to the different agencies that participated in the after-action review for their comments which are due March 5, Gustafson said.

Once the state finalizes the tsunami report, it will finally be published more than two years after the tsunami response it was supposed to analyze.

"We're just happy that we can come to closure and get it out to the public," Gustafson said.

Do you have something you want us to look into? Submit your tip here.


Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.