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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 24, 2005

Tourism czar trusts disaster plan

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer

Waikiki is well-prepared to deal with a tsunami and its aftermath, state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert said yesterday.

Safety officials have come up with tsunami evacuation plans for crowded places, such as Waikiki Beach.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Hawai'i's tourism industry always had plans to handle disasters such as a tsunami, but the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami on Dec. 26 "got everybody more in gear," Wienert said following a luncheon sponsored by the Pacific Asia Travel Association.

"It really has brought it to the forefront of everyone's thoughts to determine what do we have in place," she said. "The discussions started two days afterwards in regards to what is our plan, get it out, dust it off, let's see if there needs to be changes on it, let's make sure that all of our people know what that plan is."

The PATA luncheon focused on the emergency evacuation of Waikiki and included presentations from O'ahu safety officials and others.

Tsunamis have killed 222 people here in the past 60 years. The last deadly wave hit in 1975, from an earthquake near Kalapana on the Big Island.

Waikiki police officer Leland Myles Cadoy said education is paramount to being ready for a tsunami or other disaster and offered department presentations to hotels and others.

Officials said most hotels can evacuate guests to the third floor or higher — some recommended at least the sixth floor — as long as it's a concrete-and-steel structure. Such "vertical evacuations" are the best method in highly populated areas such as Waikiki because putting people on the roads will cause gridlock, they said.

Wienert said Waikiki properties need to make sure security officials discourage people from evacuating by car and that people can also simply walk inland to safe areas.

The Hawai'i Tourism Authority's communications center at the Hawai'i Convention Center is ready with equipment and plans to facilitate information for disasters and is going to have the ability to cablecast messages into hotel rooms, said HTA marketing director Frank Haas.

Warren Ferreira, corporate director of security and support services for Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, said the company's emergency command center at the Ohana Maile Sky Court will work with the Hawaii Visitor Industry Security Association and the Hawaii Hotel Security Association during a crisis.

He said the center will disseminate often complicated civil defense information to hotels with simpler notices in English and other languages and is prepared to use a system including radios, scanners and security officers on bike if telecommunication systems fail following a disaster.

Ferreira, however, referred to a recent Advertiser letter to the editor from a small business owner in the International Marketplace who expressed concerns that some Waikiki hotels and restaurants were not prepared for a tsunami. He noted her suggestion for better signs on where and how to evacuate and said government and possibly industry officials should work on that.

Wienert said visitors should not be worried "as long as they listen to all the information and they act in a timely manner. Don't wait till the last minute and think, 'Oh, I want to look.' That's the biggest challenge."

Reach Lynda Arakawa at 535-2470 or larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com.