Always Ignoring Smart Advice

The last time I wrote a column about the problems smart people have communicating with the public was in 1980. It’s worth pointing out once again that the public doesn’t have a good record of taking advice from some very smart people in government.

The last time there was a good example of this was in May 1980, when a 5.1-magnitude earthquake triggered a monstrous volcanic eruption that blew 1,300 feet off the top and north face of Mount St. Helens. The blast flattened 230 miles of timberland, killing virtually all life within its zone.

The sad part of this story is that weather people and volcanologists in the Northwest were warning residents of the area to drop everything and clear the area. These very smart people had unlimited access to satellites, newspapers, television and every form of media available to give strong visual evidence that Mount St. Helens was going to erupt. The record shows only the animals left the area.

The question is still completely unanswered: “How come the public doesn’t heed the warning of highly qualified government officials when doing so could save their lives?” There is no consensus on an acceptable answer.

On that note, I find it unbelievable that for at least one week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been pleading with public to stay out of Oahu’s North and West shores. What happened? The announcements create a traffic jam on the North Shore! The public is doing the exact opposite of NOAA’s warning. Again, the question is why.

Last week, the large waves on Oahu’s North and West shores kept the ocean-safety people busy. Seven people were rescued from the surf, and officials issued 1,900 verbal warnings.

Of course, professional surfers live for big waves, and tourists who have never seen huge, “life-threatening” surf are probably just curious.

It’s nerve-wracking to watch the public ignore warnings from highly qualified people. But I guess maybe that’s why watching firefighting is more popular that watching fire prevention.

In any case, it’s a problem for smart government offi cials to solve.