Tsunami alert prompts review of American Samoa's emergency response
Pago-Pago (Talanei News) -- "Make sure our emergency plans are up to date." That’s the instruction from Governor Lemanu Peleti Mauga to the American Samoa Department of Homeland Security (ASDHS) and other first responders.
In a series of meetings over the weekend and Monday, directors and deputies of many departments along with representatives of the territory’s media and telecommunications providers were gathered to discuss their response to last Thursday’s tsunami warning.
The governor’s authorized representative, Lt. Gov. Talauega Eleasalo Ale chaired the meeting on Sunday. A number of items were discussed including:
The need for ongoing tsunami preparedness outreach and education
Director of ASDHS Samana Semo Ve’ave’a addressed the most asked question: "Why aren’t the sirens working?"
He explained that repair plans for the siren system are ongoing and pre-date the Covid-19 outbreak. However, the repairs require specialized technicians from off island and protecting “the bubble” (of Covid-free American Samoa) is still receiving first priority.
As such, unless the technicians are willing to quarantine before coming down, American Samoa will have to use other methods for spreading the word when tsunamis threaten our shores.
Meteorologist-in-Charge at the National Weather Service (NWS) in Pago Pago Elinor Lutu-McMoore reminded the gathering that anyone that wants one can have a siren installed right in their home or office.
NOAA weather radios are built to sound an alarm automatically when the National Weather Service sends an alert. These alarms work independently of the siren system and radio’s can be purchased at local stores and the PX. The system has been in place for decades. The ASDHS has distributed hundreds of these radios for free as recently as 2016.
Lutu-McMoore also briefed the room on the territory’s emergency alert system which is an extension of the NWS alerts that is carried on all local radio, television and cable television stations.
In addition, she spoke of American Samoa’s most unique warning system: the village bells. She explained how the NWS and ASDHS have worked with the Department of Samoan Affairs over the years to toll village bells during emergencies. (A KHJ News report from 2009 describes how the systems can work together.
Local radio station 93KHJ broadcast a tsunami warning which was received and repeated by another station Showers of Blessings via EAS. A pulenuu of an eastside village heard the radio transmission and rang the village bell to evacuate.)
Lutu-McMoore cautioned all in attendance that sirens and radio can only help if a tsunami is coming from a long distance away.
In the event that a nearby earthquake rocks American Samoa, people shouldn’t wait for a warning from officials. In the case of heavy earthquakes that you can feel, “the earthquake is your warning. Evacuate immediately.”
KHJ News will carry more from the ASDHS meetings in future bulletins.