Tech Issues Hampered Information on Tsunami Watch for Hawaii

March 27, 2020

Technical issues made it difficult to get information about a tsunami watch for Hawaii and its subsequent cancellation, the National Weather Service said Wednesday.

The brief tsunami watch was canceled Tuesday after a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck in the northern Pacific near Russia’s far eastern Kuril Islands.

Tsunami waves were possible for the nearest shores. However, Hawaii’s watch did not appear on the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center’s website because the site was discontinued a month ago and had been automatically redirecting visitors to tsunami.gov, said Susan Buchanan, a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service.

The redirect expired Tuesday, so visitors needed to go directly to tsunami.gov to receive watches and warnings. This change was communicated to the public via a notice in February, Buchanan said.

Even for those who knew about the change and went directly to tsunami.gov, the watch didn’t appear there immediately.

“Within an hour, staff at the National Tsunami Warning Center in Alaska changed a local router setting and the watch appeared on tsunami.gov,” Buchanan said.

By the time Ryan Ozawa, a civic tech advocate, pinned down accurate information about the Hawaii watch, it was lifted.

He first saw news about the watch on Twitter and went to verify the information on the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center’s website, which didn’t re-direct him to tsunami.gov. Lots of other decommissioned websites automatically re-direct users, he noted.

“It was disappointing,” Ozawa said. “I think it was a failure to use all the tools at their disposal.”

Ozawa tried accessing information on Twitter, going to the handle (at)NWS_PTWC, a verified account for the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. But there were no tweets about Hawaii’s watch.

The watch was “tweeted and communication over the National Weather Service’s Honolulu Weather Forecast Office website,” Buchanan said. “People should have multiple ways to receive weather and tsunami information. On Twitter, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and the Honolulu Weather Forecast Office are both great sources for people in Hawaii.”

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