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Tsunami Codes

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Aloha, James
Where were you hearing these "firsthand" accounts about the '46 tsunami
in Hilo? Are you visiting the islands, or was this a program on NPR or
NOVA? Perhaps you visited the Tsunami Museum in Hilo. If you were lucky,
you got to talk with "Steamy" Chow, a great storyteller here that was a
street cop during the following tsunami in 1960... he knows everything
and everyone! (And a nice guy, too.)
In regards to your curiosity about Hawaii's "tsunami code", I think you
are a victim of a little local exaggeration. Hawaii County (physically
encompassing the Big Island, including the town of Hilo) is probably the
most experienced with tsunami devastation, but is far from the leading
edge of municipal wisdom regarding building codes... we still use the 91
UBC, and probably will continue with it for another 2 or 3 years (they
only switched from the 82 UBC a couple years ago!).
The County has gone so far as to define (along the coast) probable
"tsunami inundation zones," for evacuation purposes principally. I've
only encountered two projects in 8 years of practice in Hilo that
required elevating living space floors above flood levels, and
sacrificial construction below (ie, breakaway walls). If my memory serves
me, the most demanding authority for this special work was the financing
bank and the insurance company! I think the breakaway walls concept came
from an Army Corps of Engineers guidebook, or a FEMA handbook, but I
can't remember.
I don't know of any Building Code requirements here that are
state-of-the-art regarding earthquakes or tsunamis. Perhaps some other
engineers on Oahu or Maui have run into something more elaborate?
John P. Callen, SE
Hilo, Hawaii