The Pacific Tsunami Museum (PTM) was co-founded by Dr. Walter Dudley and Jeanne Branch Johnston. In 1988, Dr. Dudley published the first edition of the book Tsunami! wherein he made a request of the community for survivor stories.
In 1993, a tsunami survivor by the name of Jeanne Branch Johnston saw the need for a tsunami museum in Hilo. As Jeanne probed the idea of starting a museum, she found others to be very responsive, and a steering committee was formed. Originally called the “Hilo Tsunami Museum”, the name was changed later to the “Pacific Tsunami Museum” (PTM) .
In December of 1993, Susan Gaughan Tissot brought her knowledge and experience with museum projects to the fledgling PTM. Susan became PTM’s Executive Director in 1994.
On May 22, 1997, First Hawaiian Bank donated its Kamehameha Branch building in downtown Hilo as a permanent site for the PTM. Bank Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Walter A. Dods, Jr. made the donation announcement on the front steps of the historic bank building. It was on the 37th anniversary of the day when warning sirens sounded for the May 23, 1960 tsunami that devastated Hilo.
Stephen Yamashiro, Hawai’i Island Mayor at the time, and Jim Wilson, PTM Board President, were present at the ceremony. Other PTM board members, as well as scientific advisory council members, were present at this momentous occasion.
First Hawaiian Bank donated both the building and the land beneath it, then-appraised at $800,000. The building, built by First Hawaiian Bank in 1930, was designed by the late C.W. Dickey, Hawai‘i’s most prominent architect of the early 20th century. PTM took possession of the building in December 1997, opening its doors to the public in June 1998. The Museum continually expands its exhibits and content to capture both the human stories and scientific explanations of the tsunami events portrayed, in keeping with our mission to educate the public and save lives in the event of a tsunami.
The Museum has encountered its share of struggles, and many people in the community have devoted priceless amounts of time and energy on its behalf, beginning with the contributions by local talents who transformed the original bank building into a museum. PTM continues its mission with the help of the community in the form of docents, tradespeople, artists, and information technology experts who contribute to PTM’s visitor services, growth, and aesthetic appeal. While we could not possibly list all of the people who have made a difference, we hope you all know how much your work has been appreciated!
Museum co-founder Dr. Walter Dudley is a professor emeritus at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo. He is involved in a number of projects to promote tsunami education. He also serves as Chairman of the Museum’s Scientific Advisory Council.
Museum co-founder Jeanne Branch Johnston presently has her own disaster consulting company and resides on O‘ahu. She was formerly the Earthquake and Tsunami Program Planner for the State of Hawai‘i Civil Defense Division.
Last Revised September 2013