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ISLAND VOICES

It’s always a good time to prepare for the worst

By Dennis Hwang

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Apr 13, 2011

In December 2004, more than 230,000 people in Indonesia and 13 other countries lost their lives from the Indian Ocean tsunami. In August 2005, at least 250,000 houses were damaged or destroyed in the Gulf of Mexico from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Now we mourn the losses in Japan from the tsunami and earthquake: 13,232 lives, with more than 14,554 missing as of yesterday. How likely is a catastrophic event in Hawaii and what can we do to prepare?

In 1992, Hurricane Iniki struck Kauai and destroyed or damaged more than 6,300 houses. Maui, Hawaii and Oahu have between two to eight times more structures, so one can obtain a ball park estimate of the damage on these islands from a similar event (up to 50,000 structures). In late March, state Civil Defense indicated that a major hurricane hitting Oahu is its greatest concern and the one we most need to plan for.

In Hawaii, the National Weather Service expects a hurricane to hit one portion of the state every 15 years. If the hurricane were to strike Oahu or more than one island, the event would be catastrophic.  This is far more foreseeable and expected than the events in Indonesia or Japan.  We can prepare by doing the following:

>> Emergency supplies. Every house should have a five- to seven-day supply of food and water, and preferably two weeks.

>> Evacuation planning. Most people here don’t know they need an evacuation plan for both a tsunami and a hurricane. The plans should cover scenarios for all family members, their locations and warning times (Four to 15 hours for an ocean-crossing tsunami and from less than five minutes to 40 minutes for a local tsunami).

If you feel an earthquake and are near the coast, watch the ocean carefully and be prepared to evacuate. If the earthquake is unusually strong so that you have difficulty standing, evacuate low-lying coastal areas immediately.

For a hurricane, residents may need to evacuate not only for water inundation (storm surge) but high wind. Families should know in advance if they will stay in a hurricane shelter, their house or another structure that maybe stronger. If they go to a public shelter, they’ll need an evacuation kit.

>> Home preparation. Consider strengthening your house instead of doing an aesthetic upgrade. A licensed architect or structural engineer can determine the most effective measures. Hurricane clips can be added to single-wall houses to make them stronger. Window coverings of shutters provide significant protection.

>> Insurance. Hurricane insurance covers damage from wind or rain penetrating the envelope of your house during a hurricane. Flood insurance may be needed to cover various types of flooding (tsunami, hurricane storm surge, coastal, river).

>> Local media. When there is an advisory, warning or a watch for a tsunami or hurricane, closely monitor the TV and radio. The National Weather Service, Pacific Tsunami Warning Center and Civil Defense officials can guide you to act properly in time, provided you are prepared yourself. 

Effective preparation requires scientists working with Civil Defense and the media to inform the public.

We can best honor those who were lost in disasters by helping people to recover in a more resilient manner while learning from these events so that we are more prepared ourselves.

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