Typhoon season primer, Part II: Pay no attention to the rumour mill.
Published: May 17, 2012
Long before social networking sites were a twinkle in their founders’ eyes, getting information about tropical storms and their approach to Pacific land masses and bases most times rested with words or graphics heard or seen on AFN radio broadcasts, commanders’ access channels and base “giant voice” loudspeaker systems.
These days, that word can be had instantly via sites such as Facebook or Twitter. Virtually every base in the Pacific has its own Facebook page, including Kadena Air Base whose commanding officer speaks in one voice for the island when it comes to tropical cyclone condition of readiness changes. Official word about TCCORs, danger zones, power outages can be passed to the base population in a matter of seconds, whether on desktop, laptop, iPad or even your small iPhone, even with the power out.
“Facebook is graet for people to engage with each other during a storm,” said 1st Lt. Hope Cronin of Kadena Air Base’s 18th Wing public affairs flight.
But those sites can also spread the wrong kind of information – that found on the Rumour Mill, usually prefaced with the words, “Well, I heard …” Sort of like the way we used to play “Telephone” in elementary school, how word would get whispered into the ear of the person seated next to you and by the time it got to the other side of the room, “The postman always rings twice” can become “My mom cooked me rice.” The sort of information spread by a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend whose husband knows a friend of a friend of a friend of somebody who used to be a weather forecaster.
Such misinformation can be “problematic,” Cronin said, even creating safety issues.
So how do the official channels go about trying to slow the Rumour Mill traffic to a halt?
“We try to build trust with our internal audience,” Cronin said. “Try to make it to when they see information coming from Kadena Air Base, that’s something they can act on and trust.”
One problem with social networking sites is that while bases put out official information for their troops, the comments space can sometimes make a home for unofficial babble and rumours. “We can limit interaction and comments; that way, you can just see our official comments,” Cronin said.
Long before a typhoon season even begins, Kadena and other bases try to get their populace “into the habit of checking” with their official Web sites and social-networking pages, Kadena public affairs flight’s Ed Gulick said.
Social networking is one means bases use to get people to ready for storms in advance, as well as TV, radio and base Web sites. “There’s always a big push to prepare your typhoon kit so you’re ready for it,” said Capt. Kyle Paslay of Kadena’s 18th Wing Weather Flight.
Reminders are constantly published on those sites about what to do during certain conditions:
If you live in low-lying areas, such as near Camp Kinser, White Beach or Okuma, make arrangements to stay with a friend on higher ground. Ensure you have plenty of water, non-perishable food, a radio, batteries, pet food for the furry ones, gas up and visit the ATM, even ensure that your iPhone is charged up in case the power goes out.
“Whatever you need to help you get back on your feet in the days after the storm,” Paslay said.
Never go outside when TCCOR 1-Emergency is in effect, when winds of 58 mph or greater are occurring. Remain indoors until the all-clear is sounded.
Once the season begins and a storm makes its way to Okinawa, “it’s our responsibility to synch our message with American Forces Network and other official voices, to spread the message quickly and accurately,” Cronin said.
Another way base officials try to interact and slow the rumour traffic via social networking is to directly engage the base population in conversation while a storm is actually happening.
“We might go onto Facebook and ask, ‘What do you wish you were doing now?’” Cronin said. Most, of course, wish they could be outdoors, which is prohibited by U.S. Forces Japan instruction during TCCOR 1-E. “We’re like, ‘We feel your pain; in the meantime, let’s talk about it here’ instead of going out,” Cronin said.
The point being, rather than listening to friends or friends of friends, take any rumours you hear with a grain of salt and pay attention to official channels in all cases, and to understand that the rules published by USFJ are not “suggestions,” Cronin said.
“New people might think those are merely suggestions or guidelines,” she said. “They’re there to keep people safe. Sometimes, there’s confusion and they think those are optional. It’s not negotiable.”
Last year, two major typhoons struck Okinawa, Songda in late May which pounded the island with 132-mph gusts, and Muifa in early August, which dumped 40 inches of rain on the island in 24 hours. Power was out to tens of thousands of homes, but considering the conditions, damage was minimal.
The island averages 1½ to 2 major typhoons per year, with the peak period considered the first two weeks of September,” Paslay said. “It can vary,” he said, adding that between 2004 and 2010, there were fewer storms than usual but “we’re looking for a potential increase in storms. There are a lot of variables, a lot of opinions.”