Scientists Learn From Panicked Tweets After An Earthquake

agu2009

twitterquakes

SAN FRANCISCO — A team of U.S. Geological Survey scientists have developed a web service that combines seismic data about an earthquake with Tweets of surprise and angst from the popular microblogging service’s users.

The goal of the project is to improve emergency response by providing a crowdsourced window of the conditions on the ground immediately following a quake.

“Why would such a system work?” asked Paul Earle, a geologist at the USGS, at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting Monday. “Because people like to tweet after an earthquake.”

It turns out that the “Earthquake! Earthquake!” SOS that you tweet, aggregated with thousands of others, provides an excellent indication of the strength and severity of a quake. A little rumbler yields just a small spike, while a strong quake produces a huge spike in Twitter activity, as seen in the graph above.

To read more

quaketweets1

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Honouring Samoa: A Young Survivor Pays Tribute to the Village Boy Who Helped Her

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=samoa+tsunami&iid=6700875″ src=”e/c/0/3/Further_Quake_Hits_a0cc.jpg?adImageId=8208380&imageId=6700875″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /] Read the rest of this entry »


Auckland University Staff & Students Donations Fill Up Two Container Loads for Lalomanu

[tweetmeme]By Danelle Clayton

Lalomanu village in Samoa, which was devastated by the September tsunami, has received two container loads of donated supplies from staff and students of The University of Auckland.

Building supplies, food, kitchen utensils, bedding, medicine and toiletries were collected in a shipping container at the Faculty of Education in Epsom, with donations also sent from the University’s city campus and some schools.

Dean of the Faculty of Education, Associate Professor Graeme Aitken, was moved to assist Lalomanu after speaking to Ben Taufua shortly after the tragedy. Ben, from Lalomanu, is a member of the Pasifika Education Advisory Group, which advises the Faculty on Pacific matters. He lost thirteen members of his family to the tsunami.

“It was a very humbling experience to talk to someone who has lost so much,” Dr Aitken says.

The Faculty of Education’s Associate Dean Pasifika, Dr Meaola Toloa, says while the goods will assist with basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing, there is still much to be done before the village can fully recover.

“It will make a difference in the meantime but we need to keep an open mind that there is still work to be done on sustaining life for the long term,” Dr Toloa says. She and Dr Aitken led a group from the Faculty of Education to visit the village in November to see the devastation and offer support to villagers.

“Normally there would be lots of people around but the beach was barren and deserted with everything stripped. Down on the beach we saw just one survivor with his head bandaged, and we saw very few children. The fact we couldn’t locate many people to talk to just shows how bad it is.”

With the village virtually destroyed, staff and students were asked to donate practical goods to help Lalomanu rebuild. Many included a personal note and extras like children’s toys, crayons and colouring books. An empty shipping container placed on the front lawn of the Faculty’s Epsom Campus was quickly filled, and a second was made available to take extra goods.

Dr Toloa expressed her thanks on behalf of the staff and students in the Faculty who have lost close family members. The Faculty has also made allowances for its large numbers of Samoan students, some of whom interrupted their studies to return to Samoa to support their families.

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Silence from Governor’s Office; Former Head of US Insular Affairs Backs Ala’ilima Stance on CNN

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=pacific+islands&iid=6810578″ src=”7/a/d/8/Obama_signs_order_deda.JPG?adImageId=7962503&imageId=6810578″ width=”500″ height=”342″ /]
U.S. President Barack Obama greets guests after he signed an executive order restoring the White House Advisory Commission and Inter-agency Working Group to address issues concerning the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the East Room of the White House in Washington on October 14, 2009.
UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg Photo via Newscom.
Content © 2009 Newscom All rights reserved.

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The former head of US Insular Affairs, the department which oversaw American Samoa, is backing whistleblower Lei’ataualesa Birdsall V. Ala’ilima.  Until 2007, Ala’ilima served as the head of American Samoa’s Homeland Security.

In a private email to Ala’ilima, sent after seeing the CNN investigation which blew the lid on American Samoan government corruption, David Cohen, who served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior, wrote the following:

Subject: CNN Report

Leiataua,

Hope you’re well.  Good to see you, even if only on TV.  That CNN report was something.  I hope that this is an opportunity for you to vindicate yourself once and for all.  It was always very frustrating that the folks at DHS(Department of Homeland Security), who knew the real deal, could only defend you in private.  What a tragic mess that so many deaths could have been prevented.

Take care,

David

Meanwhile, Ala’ilima, who has a son and daughter-in-law about to be deployed to Afghanistan, is currently embroiled in  legal action against the American Samoan Government after he was fired as Homeland Security Director in 2007.  His departure from the Office  is one of the issues of contention between Ala’ilima and the government who deny that he was ever fired. Interestingly, whatever you call it, it happened soon after Ala’ilima blew the whistle on the Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor’s improper drawdown of  homeland security funding.  That whistleblowing by Ala’ilima resulted in federal funds being frozen.  To read related email, click here.

As reported in a previous story, those funds, which American Samoa Homeland Security never saw, was  specifically earmarked  for tsunami preparedness. That included an island-wide emergency tsunami siren system. American Samoa Homeland Security, however, never received the funds.

Official records – correspondence between Governor Togiola Tulafono, US Department of Homeland Security and American Samoa Homeland Security – highlight repeated, but failed, efforts by the US Adminstration to get American Samoa’s Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor to return funds to homeland security. But they ignored the command from their funders. And those funds were never restored to homeland security.

As a result, federal funds for disaster preparedness were frozen. No island-wide emergency tsunami siren was ever installed on American Samoa. Documents cited – such as testing results, and agreements to purchase and install the sirens – show the work was  in the pipeline. Then on Tuesday 29th September, the worst case scenario, a destructive tsunami destroyed villages in American Samoa killing 34 people, according to the official count. That catastrophic event has forever changed the landscape of the islands and also the hearts of those who lost loved ones, lost their homes and lost their livelihoods.

In a CNN interview aired in October, the Governor denied any knowledge of a viable plan for the tsunami plan.

“There was a study, I believe, but never a plan for a system,” the governor said. “I was trying to get verification of what happened to that system, but I could not get the definite information.”

We have contacted Governor Tulafono, the Governor’s Representative Evelyn Langford, and the current Homeland Security Director Mike Sala for further comment. No response.

Despite their silence, official records – and the fabricated story sent to us by Sala on behalf of  Governor Tulafono– paint a strong picture of an American Samoan administration who acts above the law.

Ala’ilima, however, has sent us a reply and we post his response in full below. The only editing applied to his response below is adding subheadings and editor’s notes:

Lei’ataualesa Birdsall V. Ala’ilima
Former head of American Samoa’s Homeland Security

Statement to PEW(pacificEyeWitness.org)

Federal grant funds deposited in the American Samoa Government (ASG) treasury general fund are used to pay for unauthorized ASG expenses. This practice puts all federal projects in jeopardy as treasury struggles to cover up over inflated payrolls and mismanaged programs. This practice is well documented in independent audit reports over the past two decades.

Generally, ASG’s response to these critical audit findings is to acknowledge the issues and claim to be working towards resolution but in reality nothing changes.

US Agencies Turn A Blind Eye  to Corruption American Samoa

Federal agencies have generally turned a blind eye to these concerns primarily because American Samoa ’s award amounts are insignificant in the overall scheme of things and the cost associated with enhanced monitoring is deemed too high to warrant the expenditure for individual agency programs. Unfortunately federal agencies adopting this excuse fail to carry out their fiduciary responsibility to the American tax payer and by sheer negligence perpetuate the mismanagement and corrupt practices in the territory at all government levels.

Bribery:  A Standard Government Business Practice

Emboldened by the lack of transparency or repercussions, officials would often accede to subtle and overt acts of bribery as a standard government business practice. The question “what’s in it for me?” became a motto for such unsavory characters in authority which then infects those who serve below them. It goes without saying that once an individual succumbs to these corrupt practices they are “hooked” into a vicious cycle and subject to further exploitation by those with knowledge. Unchecked, unethical individuals caught up in this cycle freely abuse their authority to enrich and/or advance themselves in government without regard to either the law or the public interest they are sworn to serve.

Abuse of Power: Using “FBI” Name to Secure False Stop Order & False Media Statement

Mr. Mike Sala, a senior law enforcement/security official in the current administration is a classic case in point.  He used the name of the FBI to secure a false “stop order” to keep me from flying off island as all these events were unfolding.  He violated a fundamental constitutional right and then issued a false statement to the media. Yet nothing has been done to hold him responsible.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our own experience dealing with Mike Sala, the American Samoa Homeland Security Director who replaced Ala’ilima, supports what Ala’ilima states here. Sala lied to our media outlet in official correspondence sending us a story he dishonestly claimed was written and published by Samoa News. We did not publish the story once we verified that he was lying. When we emailed back to Sala, Governor Tulafono and Evelyn Langford, as to why they lied, no response at all.


Lack of Accountability of People in Authority

Again, the overarching problem here is that people in authority are not held accountable for their actions. In a small tight knit community, it’s easy to understand why corruption readily infects all levels of the administration, legislature and to some extent the local judicial system. There must be consistent and effective program oversight. In this environment, and without an effective system of checks and balances in place, one can appreciate the challenges facing the well intentioned federal programs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This issue of accountability has also been noted by our outlet. We have found the Governor’s office staff including its Communications Director Jacinta Galeai, and the Cabinet, refusing to respond to our recent questions.


Creating A Separate Account

During my tenure with Public Works we had similar financial issues with Federal Highway (FHWA) accounts in the general funds. DPW and FHWA agreed to establish a separate fund account with Bank of Hawaii to channel highway grants. To this day, this system has worked well and FHWA road projects no longer languish in jeopardy for lack of timely payments to contractors. Engineers can now focus on the technical challenges of projects and not become embroiled in resolving financial issues.

I recommended to the governor to establish a similar account specifically for DHS grant funds.

This was one of the recommendations US DHS references in their email to the governor dated January 19, 2007 concerning the reason for the funding suspension. Unfortunately, the governor did not support this recommendation (and other key recommendations to enhance accountability) or see it as an avenue to correct the problem within treasury.

Sala’s Dishonest Work In Action

Instead, he chose to place the responsibility for emergency preparedness under Mr. Sala who then “fired” the entire TOHS staff blaming them for the mismanagement of the DHS funds. By doing this, Mr. Sala removed all persons with knowledge of both emergency preparedness and  he took control of all DHS funding to the territory.

In addition to the DHS letter to the governor that explains the reason for funding suspension, it should be noted that Mr. Sala and treasury had 90 days to respond to a preliminary audit report that came out just prior to my termination. To this day they have still not submitted an official audit response. This led to an extension of the federal suspension.

During my tenure I had a very good working relationship with personnel from the US DHS. We were working through concerns that arose because of issues unique to our territory. Mr. Sala got rid of all the dedicated employees who were intimately familiar with the program. He points to the audit review as his rationale for terminating my employment, but he fails to point out that the findings were preliminary in nature and that he himself has never responded to the audit. Obviously, it is in his interest to point to specific audit findings to justify his actions.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Official correspondence cited support Ala’ilima’s statement on who was responsible for the misuse of homeland security funds. Those funds never reached Ala’ilima’s department. Sala’s actions to terminate the homeland security employees is at odds with the official correspondence from the Department of Homeland Security which lays the blame squarely with American Samoa Treasurer and the Lieutenant Governor. The Governor during this period was on medical leave. He was, however, kept informed. His own response reveals that he was aware of the actions taken by his office. Yet he does not question it.


Unanswered Questions:Treasury

I prepared a response to the program findings of the audit and submitted the document unofficially to DHS even after my termination. Even then I hoped that I could provide information to the US DHS which would resolve their issues. However, I could not respond to most of the financial concerns which could only be answered by treasury. Draw downs were being made without my authorization by the lieutenant governor to pay a wide variety of people not affiliated with the program in any way. The emails I have provided between DHS and the governor clearly state this. I also understand when the ASG treasury comptroller abruptly terminated his employment contract last year with ASG, he handed over to DHS and the FBI digital file copies of treasury records. It is far past time that federal agencies need to take action.

Abandoned by US Government Officials

I am certainly appreciative of the assistance the FBI provided in ensuring the safety of me and my family members until we were able to leave the territory. However, it is still a mystery to me why US DHS refused to clear up the issues and protect my reputation in this whole sordid affair. My written requests to USDHS went unanswered and I felt a strong sense of abandonment.

Given what has been revealed over the past twenty years and the growing public outrage in the territory, it is unconscionable that the federal government continues to send money to the islands to be lumped into a general fund. A simple accounting practice with specific grant monies placed in separate accounts to be used for specific purposes only would have solved virtually all of this.

If This Happened In A U.S.A State(Not A Territory)…Missing Funds…Terrorising

If this sad and tragic episode were happening in some small town in any of the fifty states I am positive there would be significantly greater exposure and outrage, and the federal government would have stepped in and clamped down on local corruption.

When you have a group of high level local government officials carrying out lawless behavior while manipulating and terrorizing a community, it becomes the responsibility of federal law enforcement and the US justice system to do something about it. For all money that has “gone missing” in the Territory, the U.S. DOJ has one relatively minor case of procurement fraud pending. That case involves allegations from over five years ago. When the federal government wants to clean up corruption or wrongdoing, it is well capable of doing so.

Whether it is mafia and gangster corruption in large cities, or civil rights violations in small towns of the South, the federal government has done significant good when motivated. Federal law enforcement bears a significant responsibility in controlling crime, particularly in matters where federal funds are involved and a contributing factor to the cause. All the more so when local law enforcement is impotent, and all the more so when thousands of innocent civilians are directly suffering. Simply stated, “Dangle candy in front of children, and they will bite and bite again until an effective parent says, “No more!” There is virtual impunity on the island. It is in many ways a lawless place.

Cancelled Hearings Highlights Lack of Accountability

Until people are held accountable in a way that directly affects them, they will continue to violate the law. The recent cancellation of the House hearings on disaster preparedness is a glaring example an administration answering to no one and the inability of local government to police itself.

Much of the corruption on island can be readily tracked through paper trails, but it takes federal resolve and commitment to see it through.  Even minimal but motivated manpower could go a long way toward effectively clamping down hard on corruption and mismanagement in the territory. Even a few agents and Assistant United States Attorneys dedicated to cleaning up the corruption could get a considerable amount done. Those involved would learn very quickly that there will be consequences for their illegal actions. These agents need to be well educated about Samoa ’s unique island culture, history and value system. Above all else, they need to be highly motivated to clean up corruption and provide the citizens a level of protection they deserve.

To continue turning a blind eye is disenfranchising the people of American Samoa of the freedoms and rights guaranteed under the United States constitution. The desperate need for the federal government to intervene is also underlined by the complete lack of commitment on the part of the Territory’s representative in Congress to do anything.

Four Key Recommendations

I would recommend four federal actions that are clearly cost effective and simple.

1.       The US Department of the Interior as the primary agency for oversight management in the territory should expand their presence in American Samoa to include a federal grants office. The office should be responsible to receive and distribute all federal grants to the territory and ensure that the uses are in compliance with appropriate federal regulations. This grants office would be empowered to seek civil recovery of grant funds from the ASG and individuals who have been found to have improperly received federal money and to refer to the federal Department of Justice information on any individuals who it believes may have engaged in criminal activity involving the misuse of federal funds.

2.       All federal grants to the territory should be conditioned to effective local and federal “whistleblower” legislation. No one should be exposed to retaliation nor should they have to sacrifice their livelihood and family’s safety when reporting fraud, waste and abuse to proper authority. A very effective part of whistle blowing legislation is a right for the whistleblower to receive compensation based on the amount saved to either the ASG or the federal government.

3.       The FBI should expand their presence in the territory to manage and investigate reported cases involving fraud, waste and abuse. Local law enforcement is highly suspect and has lost public credibility. The FBI should also train the public and ASG employees in proper reporting procedures for matters concerning fraud, waste and abuse. The US DOJ must take responsibility for aggressively investigating and prosecuting corruption and it must be done in a serious and timely fashion.

4.      The federal court system should expand their authority to prosecute and adjudicate fraud, waste and abuse cases involving federal funds in the territory.

The recommendations would certainly control corruption in the territory. I am also a realist when I say corruption in American Samoa will never be eliminated because there will always be people trying to game the system. However, we can control the distribution of funds in such a way as to hold these people accountable and minimize the ability of persons attempting to game the system to the extent that it impacts the safety and welfare of the community as it did in the recent tsunami.

Clearing A Man’s Name: Fa’amausili Pola

A lot of innocent people in Territorial Office of Homeland Security and the Territorial Emergency Management Coordinating Office (TEMCO) suffered both in their reputation and their employment because of this political charade to cover up improper actions by top government people.

Former TEMCO Director Fa’amausili Pola testified before the Senate Select Investigating Committee (SSIC) and stated truthfully that it was the Lt. Governor, his deputy director and the ASG treasurer who were responsible for the abuse of federal funds that resulted in the suspension.

The following day, Fa’amausili was arrested and charged with 101 counts of fraud. Regrettably, this courageous former Marine passed away before he had the opportunity to clear his name in court and sadly his family has not had the closure they deserve from this sordid affair. It was obvious the SSIC was not prepared to hear the truth behind the matter they were investigating. Even more tragically, people died or were injured because the overly-broad firing of trained personnel with the knowledge of the programs back in March of 2007.

This stopped the deployment of a very critical part of the warning system, the sirens and wasted significant federal investment into the territory. American Samoa needs politicians who seek the correct information to address the real problems and not just try to confuse the issues, find convenient innocent scapegoats and sweep problems under the rug. The people are not buying this anymore.

American Samoans are not second or third class citizens and we deserve a local government that responds to the needs of the people. Tragically this is not happening, and the lives of men, women, children, and elderly are affected every day. Much of this has finally gained attention because thirty four people died horrific and unnecessary deaths on September 29.

Will someone not hear their voices which cry out for justice?

Related Stories

Part 4: American Samoa Telco’s Role in Not Installing Island-Wide Tsunami
Part 3: Who Authorised Federal Funds Be Diverted Away from Tsunami Preparedness American Samoa?

Part 2: Former Homeland Security Rebutts Claims by Governor; Hearing Cancelled Again

Latest:  Whistleblower Answers Accusations From American Samoa Governor’s Office

American Samoans Respond to Cnn Report on Alleged Government Corruption
Tweets From Governor’s Supporter: John Wasko

Radio Australia Interview: Joey Cummings, General Manager, South Seas Broadcasting, American Samoa

Full Transcript: Cnn Investigative Report on American Samoa Misuse of Federal Funds
CNN Report: Part 2

CNN Report: Part 1

Breaking News: CNN Reports American Samoa Squandered Tsunami Warning Funds

Editor’s Note: After listening to the Radio Australia interview, it’s clear that both the interviewer and Cummings  either did not have access to the same official correspondence, or other official sources, to verify information provided by the Governor.  Or they choose not to refer to it. Either way, this interview does not answer the question as to why Governor  Togiola Tulafono denied knowledge of the emergency tsunami siren system.  And why, despite official correspondence, and official sources,  pointing the finger squarely at American Samoa’s Treasurer and Lieutenant Governor for the draw-down and misuse of  homeland security funds, that is never raised in the interview. Instead, this interview wrongly gives the impression that the Governor had a legitimate right to point the finger at Ala’ilima.

Quite the contrary.

Ala’ilima, from official correspondence we have cited, and other sources, make it clear that Ala’ilima was unfairly targeted, used as a scapegoat, and wrongly and deliberately fingerpointed by Governor Tulafono and his Cabinet members. That is the only conclusion we can reach from the facts presented to us. Since Ala’ilima  had himself tried to get the Governor’s Cabinet to comply and return homeland security funds,  the paper trail shows a deliberate attempt by Governor Tulafono and Sala to create a misleading impression on the role that Ala’ilima played in this.   That is, until the CNN report aired in October this year, their finger pointing, continued by the current Homeland Security Director Mike Sala, has had the unsavoury effect of silencing government critics.

We hope our coverage goes some way to helping to set the public record straight and right some wrongs deliberately  committed against the names of those targetted by people in positions of power and authority in American Samoa. That the stories we have posted so far  will give American Samoans the courage to speak up loudly and bravely to the White House Obama Administration to demand an open, transparent, and accountable government in American Samoa: for the people, by the people.

Updated 31st December 2009: This particular story, corruption in American Samoa, continues to attract the ire of John Wasko of Tutuila. His defensive comments, that ignore any questions put to him throughout our “experience” of him,  reveal a bizarre loyalty towards those who govern corruptly in Tutuila. We leave you to draw your own conclusions on John Wasko and his motives. From our position, he has consistently refused to answer questions put to him from PEW. Until Wasko does, and tells us what his connections are to the Governor and other members of the Cabinet,  we won’t be wasting any more time responding to his defensive tirades that support corruption in Tutuila.

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Tragedy Hits Former Manu Samoa Player After Daughter Dies on Sportsfield

[tweetmeme]New Zealand’s Radio NewstalkZB sports host, Joe Lose, broke this story, late  yesterday afternoon. He stated the family had requested privacy. This morning,  print media are naming the family and the young child who died. Her name is Christina, daughter of Luke Mealamu, the younger brother of All Black (NZ rubgy national team) Keven Mealamu.

Luke is a former Manu Samoa player who played for Samoa in 2000. Media reports say he  now works as a social worker in Mangere, Auckland, NZ, where he lives with his family.

Sunday-Star Times report this morning

A six-year-old girl, believed to be the niece of All Black Keven Mealamu, was crushed to death and a three-year-old boy was hurt while playing on a scrum machine at an Auckland park yesterday.

Relatives at the scene said the girl’s name was Christina and that she was the daughter of Mealamu’s younger brother Luke, who is a rugby coach. The girl was with a family group attending a touch tournament at the Tamaki Recreation Centre in Glen Innes when the accident occurred about 2.30pm. Ambulance staff said she received extensive injuries and they were unable to save her.

Another child, believed to be a three-year-old boy from the same family, was also taken to hospital with moderate injuries. Middlemore Hospital last night said the child was due to be discharged.

Mealamu was seen driving away from the park.

Last night, a babysitter at the Mealamus’ Auckland home said the grieving family was at the hospital.

to read more

pacificEyeWitness extends our deepest sympathies and condolences to Christina’s family at this time.

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Part4: American Samoa Telco Role In No Tsunami-Warning System Examined

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=american+samoa&iid=6701058″ src=”9/b/9/b/Clean_Up_Continues_0d48.jpg?adImageId=7877033&imageId=6701058″ width=”500″ height=”333″ /]

PAGO PAGO, AMERICAN SAMOA- People work to clear the rubble near the village of Nuan Seetaga following the 8.3 magnitude strong earthquake which struck on Tuesday on 29th September 2009 in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images

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This is part of an ongoing series on American Samoa post-tsunami and its disaster preparedness. In October, CNN broadcast a damning report on American Samoa’s misuse of federal funds intended for tsunami preparedness. Close to $23 million worth of funds to help the citizens.

On Tuesday 29th September 2009, in the early hours of the morning, an 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck the islands of American Samoa, Samoa and the Tongan island of Niuatoputapu. That earthquake triggered a destructive tsunami that killed close to 200 people on the official death count across all three islands. American Samoa’s official death toll, although no casualty list released, states 34 died; Samoa released an official casualty list of more than 140 dead including at least 70 children no older than 11 years old; Niuatoputapu lost 9 people including a child and an infant.

There was no island-wide emergency tsunami siren on that horrific day. America Samoa, though not releasing a casualty list citing patient privacy laws, state that 34 lives were lost.

The loss of lives on American Samoa prompted CNN to ask questions about where the millions of dollars of disaster preparedness . Those misused funds were inapprorpriately drawn down by the Treasurer of American Samoa, and the Governor’s Authorised Representative(GAR). They continually ignored express direction from both the US Administration and Ala’ilima to return funds to the homeland security budget.

One of the key players, who has perhaps displayed a degree of negligence in this tragedy, is American Samoa Telecommunications Agency. Despite signing a Memorandum of Understanding with American Homeland Security, prior to funds being frozen, they did not buy let alone install the island-wide emergency tsunami siren. Yet official records show in this box that they signed a document but failed to carry it out.

View this document on Scribd

Below are the final installation of responses between Governor Tulafono’s Cabinet and the former Homeland Security Director reveal a wide difference between each one’s understanding and comprehension of the issues involved, and exactly what happened or didn’t happen.

GOVERNOR/SALA: On matters related to the sirens, Sala said that when he came on board, he found evidence of a study which had been done for an island-wide siren system. He agreed with the governor’s remarks to CNN that “it was only a study.”

AlA’ILIMA: This was way more than a study. The Territorial Office of Homeland Security had already entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with American Samoa Telecommunications Authority (ASTCA) in May 2006 to purchase and install the sirens…In the memorandum it was clearly stated that the installation of the sirens was a top priority for the American Samoa Government and DHS funding was approved for the project before my termination.

GOVERNOR/SALA:A facilities manager at American Samoa Telco, who asked not to be identified, verified that it did order one siren, based on a survey done in 2006. “To date, ASTCA has not been paid for the one siren which was ordered for a test, he said. A full warning system was never delivered, per the ASTCA official.

AlA’ILIMA:Mr. Sala has obviously not read the Memorandum of Understanding. This was recognized as a top priority matter for the American Samoa Government and American Samoa Telecommunications Authority obligated itself to finance and install the sirens and then to seek reimbursement. Given that the Memorandum…was signed before the freezing of the funds, American Samoa Telco as an independent government agency could have followed the agreement, installed the sirens and then sought the contract reimbursement.

GOVERNOR/SALA: The Emergency Alert System is a separate matter. “We have the emergency alarm system, continued Sala, but NOAA was unable to deliver the EAS warning system equipment in a timely manner, after $250,000 had been advanced to them in 2004 to deliver the product.

AlA’ILIMA:As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Sala does not understand the development and integration of the Emergency Alert Systems. He also does not comprehend the problems we were working through with NOAA. The federal Department of Homeland Security was concerned about using the territory’s homeland security funds to buy NOAA equipment because NOAA, as a federal agency, had its own separate funding for homeland security. American Samoa, however, did not have an existing alert system like the individual US states already had before 9/11 with their own tie in to NOAA.

If we were to make the connection, we needed to pay for the equipment and give it to NOAA. This was the basis of our Memorandum of Understanding with NOAA. I am pleased to hear that FEMA recently agreed that such a system was warranted and that the NOAA option we invested into was the most cost effective alternative .This was a manageable federal issue but it required someone who understood the problem, which clearly Mr. Sala did not and apparently still does not after two and a half years on the job.

No response from Governor Tulafono or his Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Langford. FEMA, after initially posting a comment on the website which we replied with a request to correct our stories if need be, have not responded further. Ongoing silence  from US agencies responsible for federal funding in American Samoa.

We will continue to follow this story and keep you posted on any developments.

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Photos: Our Writer on Two Weeks Volunteering in Samoa Post-Tsunami

Photos taken by Malia Tu’ai Manuleleua and Pastor Ron Westwood

Along the South Coast of Upolu, on Tuesday 29th September 2009, over 140 people lost their lives, over 300 injured, crops ruined, villages, schools, clinics, fales and some resorts destroyed leaving thousands homeless, hungry and destitute after an 8.3 earthquake triggered a destructive tsunami. American Samoa and Niutoputapu lost over 40 lives.

PEW writer Malia Tua’i Manuleleua recently returned from Samoa after volunteering with the Psycho-Social Response teams working in tsunami-affected villages along the South Coast of Upolu. One of about 70 or so local and overseas volunteers, Malia was part of a team assessing the physical, spiritual and mental health needs of individuals and families affected.

They worked in the villages of Ti’avea Tai, Vaovai and Saleaumua. Other team members: Ruta Sinclair, Team Leader and local volunteer; Pastor Ron Westbrook, Assembly of God, Australia; David Lui (NZ), and Peone Afamasaga (Samoa). They identified those who required counselling and further specialist services.  Other teams visited families in all the affected villages along the southern-west and east coastline from Siumu, Falealili to Aleipata including the small island of Manono.

In the photos are a mix of volunteers working on the South Coast of Upolu, including an Air New Zealand pilot(he’s wearing a black T-shirt with white koru design), who volunteered during his rest break.

There are also photos of the following: local staff at Samoa’s National Hospital in the ward of tsunami survivors; staff at Disaster Management Office showing crops and checking through goods received and distributed; Village of Saleaaumua: Malia interviewing an elederly gentleman on his needs; a picture of a swamp where five people lost their lives; a village mechanic and his boys helping a stranger/volunteer to get his car back on the road after the axle broke.