HVO begins move into Hilo Iron Works

  • Bill Million (right), Hawaiian Volcano Observatory facilities operations specialist, accepts delivery of boxes moved to the Hilo Iron Works building on Wednesday. Courtesy photo
  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff began moving into Hilo Iron Works this week.

Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff are starting to settle in to the former Hilo Iron Works building, their third move since the Kilauea eruption displaced them from their headquarters in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Tina Neal, HVO scientist-in-charge, said the staff are expected to be out of the customs building at Hilo Harbor, where most are located, by the end of the month. Before that, they were at the University of Hawaii at Hilo campus.

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“Our IT and network operators have been working really hard to make sure there are no glitches,” she said. “We’re just seamlessly moving from one place to another. There will be no interruption of data flow or data analysis.”

Planning for a new permanent home hinges on Congress approving a disaster recovery bill that has been stalled.

But Neal said Hawaii Island will remain HVO’s home, even if some staff are located on Oahu.

“The Oahu part of the mix remains just an idea for primarily adding technical capacity,” she said.

“It’s not the intent at all to move the HVO operations over there,” Neal added.

Concerns that the U.S. Geological Survey is considering moving HVO to Oahu were initially raised by U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono in late March in questions to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.

HVO’s former headquarters and the adjacent Jaggar Museum are owned by the national park, which also is located under the Department of Interior. Both were heavily damaged during numerous caldera collapses and earthquakes last year, prompting their evacuation.

Neal said she hasn’t heard of a return to that specific location being part of the discussion, but that “doesn’t mean it has come off the table.”

USGS would get funding for a new HVO home under the recovery bill that could be voted on next week.

The bill identifies $72.3 million for repair and replacement of equipment and facilities from disasters in 2018.

“Until that happens, we don’t have a budget to deal with, to begin to plan,” Neal said.

Funding would be used to build a new location or refurbish an existing building.

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HVO has about 30 employees. A few will continue to work out of a warehouse in Keaau, where archives and some equipment is stored. While the Iron Works building is in the tsunami inundation zone, Neal said HVO mostly will occupy the second floor. Sensitive equipment will remain at the Keaau warehouse.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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