Civil Defense exercise provides audience for administrator’s worries about tsunamis

LIHU’E – Mark Marshall, Kaua’i Civil Defense Agency administrator, used an audience of nearly 60 people at an emergency-response gathering to reiterate his concern over the large numbers of homes that are built in the island’s tsunami inundation zone.

He remains certain that a large tsunami (tidal wave) impacting Kaua’i has the potential to bring with it large losses of lives.

Though the last tsunami to impact any of the populated Hawaiian Islands came ashore on the Big Island in 1975, the fact is that 4,000 lives have been claimed by tsunamis in the Pacific Rim in the last 10 years.

“That’s the one that really worries me,” he said of tsunamis, which don’t have a defined season like hurricanes in the Pacific (June to November).

People are telling him constantly that Hawai’i and Kaua’i are overdue for a tsunami.

When he first became CD administrator a few years ago, he flew in the CD plane around the island, and was shocked at the number of homes built in the tsunami inundation area, or that coastal area expected to be underwater if a tsunami strikes.

Gathered earlier this week in the CD Emergency Operations Center (EOC) were representatives of county, state and federal governments, as well as hospitals, the military, and others who are expected to show up at the EOC in the event of a natural or manmade disaster.

Marshall explained how nice it is to go from a subterranean office in the County Building that used to be the territorial morgue, with 3,000 square feet of office space nearly 100 years old, to 12,500 square feet of space in a brand new building.

Civil Defense shares the new Kauai Police Department headquarters building with KPD and the county prosecutor’s offices, a total of 60,000 square feet costing $17.7 million.

Even though the CD portion of the building is brand new, Marshall wants to somehow get his hands on $500,000 he figures is required to make digital all of the visual-display materials the new EOC contains.

Off the main EOC are conference rooms, a situation analysis room and conference center designed for county decision-makers to go to when difficult, disaster-time decisions must be made, and other amenities including a small kitchen, and separate offices for Marshall; Clifford Ikeda, CD plans and operations chief; and Karleen Abalos, CD secretary.

The goal, Marshall said only half-joking, is to have the new, state-of-the-art facility, as a training center (which it has been used for already, including earlier this week), and never have to activate it in the event of a real disaster.

But as anyone who lived through hurricanes on Kaua’i can attest to, the people of this island are “very cognizant about what mother nature can do,” he said, and understand the next natural disaster is a matter of “when,” not “if.”

Add to the threat of natural disasters the threat of terrorism, war and other manmade mayhem, an example of which was brought to Mainland shores two autumns ago, and you have a prescription to forever change “the landscape of my work,” and everyone else’s lives, too, he said.

Kaua’i Civil Defense went from six to eight to nearly 100 telephone lines, and radios are backed up by satellite links, so communication can happen even during hurricane-force winds.

It is Marshall’s long-term vision to have laptop computers assigned to each county department head, or the top civil-service person in each department, for events which cause the EOC to be activated, he said.

Marshall, who in his 17 years of government service has never seen such positive public-private partnerships as exist on Kaua’i, invited those government and private agencies requiring emergency-response training to use the EOC for those purposes.

Trainers can be flown in, or participants flown out, he said.

Mayor Maryanne Kusaka brought to the discussion her own input, asking those who use the new EOC with its new carpets to kindly wipe their feet before entering the building on rainy days.

The EOC in the basement of the County Building will remain a backup facility in the event the new EOC is unavailable for any reason.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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