Our Earthquake Hyper-reaction

Bob Jones
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Wednesday - October 25, 2006
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Some things about how we handled the Oct. 15 earthquake and daylong power failure trouble me.

I’m not an expert in these matters and don’t claim to know all the answers. I toss these things out for public rumination. We get better the more we chew the cud.

I’m concerned that it may have been premature for Gov. Lingle to declare a statewide disaster within a few hours of that notso-great quake. We had none dead, no serious injuries and no catastrophic damage. Do we risk overusing that term disaster? Then what’s a devastating hurricane, an inundating tsunami or a quake that rips apart Waikiki?

I worry about our local media readiness. Battery-operated radio became our critical information line. Only Clear Channel stations KSSK AM, FM, and Star 101.9 were up on Oahu. If you had Hawaii Public Radio dialed in, you got nothing.

I’m unhappy about the way national news media play such events on slow news Sundays. My sister in Ohio was watching Fox News and called to make sure I wasn’t floating out to sea. Fox seems to have used video of shoppers waiting to enter a supermarket to cover a script that said people here were “waiting in lines for food and water.”

Associated Press led its national Internet coverage saying “100s Are Evacuated.” It used a photo of a dilapidated, ancient coffee shed on the Big Island on its side. I think I could have pushed that shed over on my own without a tremor.

The Drudge Report said “rocks and fruit all over the roads.”

At first blush, I tend to be on HECO’s side on the power shut-down. I’d rather have that auto-shut-down and one day’s loss of electricity than damaged boilers or generators which would cut us off indefinitely.

Cultural anthropologists have written how some Pacific societies have tended to lose their innate survival instincts once they became dependent on outside help such as flown-in food, tents and blankets. I thought of that as I listened to radio callers asking what they should do if the milk or eggs in their refrigerators were spoiling and what if the power were still out when it got dark.

Others wanted to know how we’d know if there was to be another quake. Obviously, we don’t know.

And I can understand people lining up at the Aikahi Safeway for batteries, but for beer, Gatorade, Cheerios, granola bars and Cheese-Its?

One of the best things I saw was the way Honolulu drivers reverted to their best behavior and did the roads with great caution and courtesy in the absence of traffic lights and police to manage the big intersections in the early hours. I guess it helped that it was a Sunday.

I also wonder about George Bush’s use of our National Guard in Iraq and Afghanistan. What if our 29th Brigade was gone when we had a Big One?

I sense that there are a lot of things to sit down and discuss before we have some real disaster - the kind a governor can declare with no over-statement.

The general response program worked well this time. It’s our “oh, my God” hyper-reaction that concerns me most.

I got out my candles and managed to cook a dinner for three of Vietnamese fish filets, Creole black-pea patties, Biryani eggplant, Ewa corn and an orange-beet-anise salad. I wasn’t going to let some darkness control my life.

Quakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and floods are all likely in our future. They go with the history of human habitation on Earth. Most we survive. Some we don’t.

We may need to re-jigger our state of mind to go with the flow of the small ones and save some shock and awe for the really big ones.

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