Improving Flow at Pearl Harbor, Part Two

The Visitor Center at Pearl Harbor serves more than one purpose. First, it is a jumping-off point for the memorials at the U.S.S. Arizona, the U.S.S. Missouri and the U.S.S. Bowfin.

            It is also a gathering place, where on any given day a WWII veteran or other VIP might be on hand to answer questions and sign autographs. The gift shop is in the center, so you can purchase Pearl Harbor memorabilia.

            But the center is also an exhibit in its own right, with educational displays throughout the interior as well as on the exterior grounds. And that is where you run into a problem.

            The center consists primarily of a large central area surrounded by walls on most sides. (Like so many public areas in Hawaii, including restaurants and hotel lobbies, the center is partially open to the outside.) There are some enclosed rooms off to the sides, including the theater, the gift shop and rest rooms.

            A great many people who visit take the time to look at the wall and exterior displays, which are numbered and feature photographs and text. Many visitors rent equipment to listen to a self-guided audio tour, which – using the numbers – walks you from one display to the next, first inside, then outside.

            The problem is, aside from putting the displays in numerical order, the people who set them up failed to adequately address the issue of flow.

            First, Pearl Harbor consistently attracts large crowds, so at any given time you may have dozens of people gathered near each display.

            Second, the physical layout makes no distinction between those listening to the audio tour and those who are not. So people on the audio tour, steadily progressing from one exhibit to the next, are in the same area as people not on the tour, who may or may not be following the exhibits in order. Gridlock often results. (And in a building without air conditioning, open to Hawaii’s warm, humid weather, this is not a good thing.)

            In a visit to Pearl Harbor last month, I did not attempt the audio tour. My wife and daughter did, but after encountering the crowds, they both chose to sit outside and simply listen to the recordings. My son-in-law stuck with the audio tour, but expressed disappointment at the end that he was unable to see many of the exhibits because of the crush of visitors.

             A fund-raising effort is under way to expand the facilities at the center. But after viewing plans for the expansion, I concluded that it does nothing to address the flow problems.

            The first thought that occurs to me is that it might make sense to reconfigure the displays with two ways to view them – one would be a path for those on the audio tour, with some other arrangement for everyone else. (In lean terms, think of the two groups of people as different families of products, going through different manufacturing cells.) That might involve making the displays free-standing, rather than having them hang on the wall, so that people could view them from two sides.

            I’m sure there are additional approaches that might help. If you have any suggestions, please post your comments below.

            Most people have limited interest in history. But there is huge interest in the displays at Pearl Harbor, which represent a great opportunity for adults to brush up on their history and teach it to their children as well. It’s a shame that opportunity is being squandered by poor flow that interferes with the public’s ability to view the displays.


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