Planning for the Worst
Mauka to Makai / The 2012 hurricane season ended in the Central Pacific on Nov. 30 about as quietly as it began. And while Hawaii was spared, New York and New Jersey were hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, a hurricane mixed with a “nor’easter.”
It took weeks to restore electric power in many communities. One municipality in New York cited homeowners for not removing the debris from their battered homes. Local and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials met with angry Staten Islanders left homeless by the Oct. 29 storm. The message was clear: We can’t depend totally on government in a disaster.
Seizing a FEMA-funded opportunity in 2008, Hawaii was the first state to develop a catastrophic disaster plan, based on a Category 4 hurricane striking Oahu with the eye of the storm making landfall directly on Campbell Industrial Park. This plausible worst-case scenario would place downtown Honolulu in the path of the strongest winds, which would accelerate to more than 200 mph along the Koolau ridgeline. Flooding caused by wind-driven waves could reach inland as far as King Street.
Seventy-eight percent of Oahu’s residential structures, or about 350,000 residences, would be destroyed or severely damaged, leaving about 650,000 people needing shelter. Oahu would be without a power grid for more than a month. An estimated 38 million cubic yards of debris, enough to fill the New Orleans Superdome three times, would be left to clear and remove. Honolulu Harbor would be severely damaged.
If the Honolulu Board of Water Supply hasn’t by then invested in additional emergency generators, there wouldn’t be enough power for island water-supply facilities.
As for food, the plan requires the government to provide 2 million meals per day.
Having finally developed a joint state-federal hurricane catastrophic plan, we at the state Office of Civil Defense next faced the enormous task of providing rapid assistance to residents and visitors. Let’s face it: There aren’t enough Guardsmen, active military or Red Cross volunteers to distribute 2 million meals to more than half a million people.
The logistical challenges required a different approach.
We need an army of trained, prepared citizens.
Having witnessed the immediate response of church leaders in December 2008, when heavy rains and flash flooding caused severe damage to homes, farms and businesses on Oahu, we turned our attention to faith-based organizations (FBOs). Church leaders, such as Pastor Ron Valenciana in Haleiwa,were already helping residents and the homeless before disaster assistance centers opened in mid-December.
In November 2009, we sought the support of FBOs for a disaster-training project called “Survive2Serve.” This initiative gained momentum with the help of Pastor Allen Cardines of Hope Chapel Nanakuli, Pastor David “Waxer” Tipton of One Love Ministries and Dr. Jerome Fan and members of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation. Neighborhood boards and other organizations in Windward and East Oahu also took an interest in Survive2Serve.
Last summer, the Nanakuli community crystallized its training with a disaster readiness exercise. One Love Ministries is now providing real-time information on its cable station during emergencies. Concerned over the lack of information and places to go during the Feb. 27, 2010, Chilean earthquake and tsunami warning, Burt Greene and members of the Hauula Community Association established the Hauula Emergency Leadership Preparedness Committee (HELP). Partnering with church leaders, HELP gained access to an 8-acre property for use as a shelter, distributed evacuation guides to 1,100 homes, received a grant from the city to store disaster supplies, and encouraged Hauula residents to plant fruit, vegetables and breadfruit trees for food security. In a ceremony on Nov. 17, 2012, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration designated Hauula a StormReady and TsunamiReady Community.
We need more such community action; we can’t depend on government to provide everything we need in a disaster.
The 2013 hurricane season begins on June 1. See the Disaster Preparedness pages of your phone book or visit [fema.gov].