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Emergency Preparedness in Hawaii Encompasses Multiple Hazards

October 3, 2014

This GOES-West satellite image from August 7, 2014 shows Hurricane Iselle approaching Hawaii and Hurricane Julio behind to the east. (Image Credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project)

The following is this week’s edition of “Volcano Watch” from the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory:

(Click to see the most recent post with the latest photos and videos of the lava flow in Puna)

First, it was Tropical Storm Iselle. Now, it’s lava wending its way down the slope of Kīlauea toward housing subdivisions and essential infrastructure. Residents of the Island of Hawaiʻi, especially those who live in the Puna District, have spent considerable time and money preparing for impending emergencies in recent months.

This map uses a satellite image acquired in March 2014 (provided by Digital Globe) as a base to show the area around the front of the June 27th lava flow. Surface activity near the flow front was advancing slowly northeast in two lobes. The active lobe farthest from the vent (the closest to Pāhoa) has now overtaken the stalled front and extended it by about 30 m (33 yards). It traveled about 150 m (273 yards) since Monday, September 29. A second lobe was about 450 m (492 yards) back from the stalled front, and it moved only about 140 m (153 yards) since Monday. (USGS)

With people still recovering from Iselle, and many more on edge about the potential impacts of Kīlauea Volcano’s active lava flow, we are reluctant to remind Hawaiʻi residents of yet another hazard that could strike the island—a devastating earthquake. We mention it now only because of an upcoming earthquake awareness and preparedness event, the Great Hawaii ShakeOut, that will take place on October 16, 2014.

The goal of this event is to encourage residents throughout the State of Hawaii to learn about and practice “Drop! Cover! Hold on!”—actions that that have been proven to prevent or reduce personal injury during an earthquake.

You can learn about “Drop! Cover! Hold on!” through the Great Hawaii ShakeOut website (, which includes helpful resources, such as “Recommended Earthquake Safety Actions in Hawaii.” These recommendations describe how to protect yourself during an earthquake, no matter where you are—for instance, if you’re on the road, in a store, or at the beach.

The Great Hawaii ShakeOut website also provides information on other steps you can (and should) take to prepare for Hawaii’s next big earthquake, such as organize an emergency kit, develop an evacuation plan for your family, and secure household objects that might fall.

Unlike hurricanes and lava flows, which arrive with forewarnings, a large earthquake could strike Hawaii at any time with no warning. In fact, the probability of a magnitude-6.5 or higher earthquake occurring in the Hawaiian Islands in the next 10 years is 50 percent. So, it’s not a matter of “if” a large, destructive earthquake will happen in Hawaii, but rather “when” it will take place.

An earthquake (M=6.1) beneath the south flank of Kilauea Volcano at a depth of about 9 km on June 25, 1989, destroyed this house. The earthquake was located near the epicenter of the M=7.2 Kalapana earthquake on November 29, 1975. (USGS Photo by J.D. Griggs)

Since 1868, more than 30 magnitude-6.0 or greater earthquakes have impacted residents across the State. To learn more about these earthquakes, you are invited to view a slide show—”Earthquakes in Hawaii: What you need to know”—posted on the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) website (

Two talks about earthquakes in Hawaii will also be presented by HVO seismologists in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, October 14, Paul Okubo will speak at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo in the Sciences and Technology Building, Room 108, at 7:00 p.m. On Wednesday, October 15, Wes Thelen will speak in Kailua-Kona in the Makaʻeo Pavilion at the Old Kona Airport State Park at 6:30 p.m. Both talks are free and open to the public. Details are posted on HVO’s website ( or you can call 808-967-8844 for more information.

We do not wish to increase anxiety during an already stressful time for many Island of Hawaiʻi residents. But, because Hawaii has a long history of destructive earthquakes, we would be remiss to not promote the Great Hawaii ShakeOut as a time to prepare for the possibility of a large earthquake.

So, on October 16, we hope that you will take a moment to think about and practice “Drop! Cover! Hold on!” Knowing what to do will be the key to protecting yourself during our next damaging earthquake—and the Great Hawaii ShakeOut is the perfect opportunity to increase your awareness of and preparedness for earthquake hazards.

Speaking of hazard awareness, we continue to encourage Puna residents to stay informed about Kīlauea Volcano’s active lava flow. Daily updates, as well as recent maps and photos, are posted on the HVO and Hawaiʻi County Civil Defense websites ( and

Another way to keep informed about Kīlauea and other Hawaiian volcanoes is through Volcano Activity Notices (VANs) distributed through the USGS Volcano Notification Service. This free service sends notification emails about volcanic activity happening at monitored volcanoes in the United States. You can sign up to receive VANs at

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