MESSIN' WITH PARADISE - Civil Air Patrol warns residents and tourists of incoming threat

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Samuel Bendet
  • Torch Magazine
In February 2010, Hawaii dodged a bullet when an 8.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Chile. Forecasters said that quake should have generated a tsunami that would pummel the Hawaiian Islands.
Instead, it wasn't more than a ripple.

Then, just over a year later on March 11, a 9.0-magnitude quake caused a tsunami that devastated north-east Japan. Again, Hawaii's shores were mostly spared.

But that certainly hasn't always been the case.

Fifty years earlier, when a 9.5-magnitude quake hit Chile, the resulting tsunami "bent Hawaiian parking meters like paperclips," said Josh Clark in his Discovery News article "Are Tsunamis Predictable."

With 85 percent of all tsunamis occurring within the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii leans on the Civil Air Patrol as one of its vital early warning systems.

How important is this mission? The Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004 struck land and killed about a quarter of a million people because the area lacked an early warning system.

The Tsunami mission is unique for the CAP in providing critical service to the state of Hawaii.

"Eighty-five percent of the shoreline in Hawaii does not have a fixed base siren," said Hawaii CAP Wing Commander Col. Roger Caires. "CAP aircraft are the only resource for issuing tsunami warnings where there are no warning sirens or where sirens are inoperative."

Their efforts helped ensure there were no casualties during the most recent tsunami scare March 11. While that tsunami had nowhere near the impact in Hawaii that it did in Japan, it still caused millions in property damage and produced waves big enough to sweep people out to sea if they hadn't heard and obeyed the warning signals.

"When some folks think of the Hawaiian Islands, they think of Gilligan's Island with a few coconut trees," said Randall Leval, from the CAP's Maui Composite Squadron. "But as you can see, it's quite a large place."

Civil air patrols fly predetermined warning routes around the island to look for anyone on or near low-lying shorelines, Leval said. They sound the tsunami warning siren and, as necessary, broadcast a voice warning via speaker system on the outside portion of each plane's fuselage.

Additionally, the islands have remote areas that have no land-based siren coverage, Leval said.

"So the CAP fills in at those remote areas and also provides warnings for areas where there are reported siren outages," he added. "Because in the real world, you know, equipment doesn't work sometimes."