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Civil Defense: communication was a challenge

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by Nick Delgado

Guam - Guam Homeland Security and the Office of Civil Defense are compiling their reports to determine lessons learned from last week's tsunami warning.

"There was definitely activity in the water we had a read in the buoy in Chalan Pago", said Chuck Ada. "Folks in the southern end of the island saw bamboo washed up and other debris, so we just need to take heed of these watches and warnings that are issued by the Joint Tsunami Warning Center and preventive action by our local government."

Ada, the Civil Defense administrator, says they are in the process of identifying their strengths and weaknesses based on the response from local authorities to last week's tsunami warning generated from the earthquake in Japan. While an obvious problem was the constant drop with cell phone calls, Ada says their preliminary assessment shows some challenges.

"Every single time we do a training exercise or engage in a world event the first corrective action always identified is communications, whether it be internally or externally it's always a challenge and that's something that every jurisdiction faces and strives to improve," he added. "Part of the communication challenge Ada admits was due to the lack of sirens available to the community. He says the Navy was able to provide some assistance for a small portion of the island and admits the rest of the sirens will not be ready until this summer."

Ada says 15 disaster warning sirens are in custody of the Department of Public Works, adding they are working to put out a bid for design and implementation. "It was in litigation for years and we were successful in getting out of that situation in November of last year so we are moving forward and we hope to get it done by the summer of this year, the only delays I would see are any problems we encounter with the USEPA environmental permitting phase," he told KUAM News.

While Ada says the sirens would augment the communication challenges, he does say it's not the solution. He says along with an alert warning system, they need to ensure law enforcement and the mayors are on the same page, and that the community is kept well informed. Ada is currently on his way to attend a three-day session with the Pacific Tsunami Working Group in American Samoa - the same place a tsunami struck after a major earthquake in Chile in 2009.

"What we plan to gain in American Samoa is additionally modeling for Guam, currently there's three different maps that we use and we are trying to get three more developed for Guam and in addition some aides specific to Guam out of the pacific tsunami warning center," said Ada. "Upon my return we will be conducting the formal hot wash with all the stakeholders and following that we'll formulate the after action report which will be disseminated for implementation."

In the meantime, Ada says experts with the U.S. Homeland Security training consortium will also be on island at the end of the month. Ada also says Governor Eddie Calvo will be signing a proclamation next week Tuesday declaring Tsunami Awareness Week.

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