In the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 27, Sirens broke the morning quiet all over the islands of Hawaii.  A continuity plan that has been in existence for a number of years was put into place and the sirens started the announcement process.

An 8.6 magnitude earthquake in Chile caused concern amongst the scientists at the Pacific Tsunami Center.  The early indicators showed a tidal surge caused by the earthquake to be heading across the ocean.  At Midnight, the advisory was changed to a watch and at six in the morning, upgraded to a warning.  The expected height of the surge was to be 6 – 9 feet.

Because plans were in place and the local population has been educated in what to do if a tsunami hits, the process went smoothly.  Lines formed at gas stations to top off the gasoline tanks, stores sold essential items (primarily rice, toilet paper and spam), and the population moved out of the flood plains and onto higher ground.  There was no panic and everything proceeded in an orderly fashion.

Government officials went through their checklists and closed near shore highways so no one would be caught on the road.  Sanitation facilities were shut down to protect the machinery prior to the expected arrival of the wave (one hour was a small price to pay for a downside potential of several weeks of no processing plants).  The locals acted with grace and aloha spirit, helping their neighbors and family through the difficult time.

This is how a contingency plan should work…smoothly and with minimal issues.  Businesses should take a lesson from this event and build the contingency plans necessary to remain afloat during a low potential/high impact event.

One of the other things I noticed while this event was going on was the way a business can capitalize on a risk event such as this.  Costco had opened their stores early in order for the public to be able to stock up on the various sundries that they might need.  This act helped them in two ways:

First, the amount of customer good will generated by opening 4 hours early to serve the needs of their customers helped solidify customer loyalty to their brand.

Second, the product that was sold early was no longer inventory in the store, and would not be a loss if the tsunami destroyed the store or caused water damage.  Less product means less loss, sold product means profit, sold at the normal price means more customer loyalty.

The fortunate news about this situation is that the all the contingency plans put into place were not needed.  The surge estimated at 8 feet didn’t materialize and while Hilo Bay has been draining and filling every 20 minutes because of the surge, no damage or loss of life occurred.  The other fortunate thing is the contingency plans worked, in an actual emergency, all the I’s were dotted and the T’s crossed.

Not bad when you consider the number of locals and tourists that were at the islands when this occurred.   Hats off to those folks who spent time building the plans and tweaking them as the years have passed.   Thanks also to those folks who put the plans into action and kept calm and peace to those around.  Kudos as well to those of us who were there, hindsight shows the effects were not as great as projected, but keeping cool heads and watching out for others showed the true Aloha spirit of the islands.  Finally, our thoughts are with the people of Chile during this very difficult time.

There are lessons to be learned hear and we will discuss them in future postings.