Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Cable News Flips Out Over Tonga Quake

Cable News looks different to us here in Hawaii and this morning was no exception.

As far as today, well, we now know that CNN and FoxNews know how to say "tsunami" instead of "tidal wave." And that's about all.

For two hours after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake was recorded near the South Pacific island of Tonga, the cable news channels breathlessly force-fed the nation with wild speculation and every conceivable disaster scenario one after another. Large maps showed where and when a tsunami would hit . . . if there was one. Weather maps were turned into war-room style theater of operations. Earthquake "experts" were asked urgent questions such as, "There will probably be aftershocks, is that true?" and "Please explain what the difference is between an 8.0 and a 7.8 magnitude earthquake?"

Hawaii was mentioned frequently. The tsunami (if there was one) would reach this island state at midnight Eastern time. This was not very helpful for those of us in Hawaii who had to calculate the TOA ourselves (6:00pm HST). I felt as if the "talking heads" considered Hawaii as some foreign disconnected piece of geography as remote as Sumatra was 1 1/2 years ago.

Didn't the news folks realize that we actually get their broadcasts live? Couldn't they at least pretend that we, the ones who would be most affected if there was a tsunami, were in some way being served by their information grovelling? Do they realize that there is more to their little world than the East Coast?

As a public service provider the cable news folks proved themselves to be little more than "panic-producers" and of no help at all to anyone had there actually been a real tsunami on its way. I was actually in awe of how many words, graphics, emotions and minutes they could expend without communicating anything of practical use at all.

Well, it really doesn't matter anyway. Here on Oahu only one local TV station even talked much about the potential of a tsunami on their morning show. For us, the idea of a "Tsunami Watch" is sort of a "let's wait and see before we do anything really stupid like close down the entire state economy until we know what might actually happen unlike what we did 10 years ago when we shut down everything for what turned out to be a 6-inch 'tidal surge'."

Ten or twelve schools were, in fact, closed throughout the state today "just in case." Mostly, these schools (which were all in coastal tsunami zone areas) were closed to avoid any late afternoon traffic problems or other potential evacuation concerns that could possible show up. No problems. No panic. Just another day in paradise!

As it turned out, no tsunami hit Fiji so the "Tsunami Watch" has been officially called off. A few thousand kids get the day off from school and some parents have to adjust their day to take care of them. But Hawaii knows what real tsunamis are and we know what real hurricanes are. We are well prepared and ready for anything. The Civil Defense warning sirens are tested at 11:45 am on the first Monday of every month. We know the sound well and we know what to do.

We are not New Orleans.