A joint task force has been set up to marshal Hawaii National Guard and active-duty military relief capabilities as Hurricane Lane churns off the Hawaiian islands and the expectation of heavy rain on Oahu later today and into Saturday.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Gov. David Ige approved the formation of Joint Task Force 5-0 to establish a clear chain of command, with Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara, the state’s deputy adjutant general, appointed as commander.
“We usually can handle natural disasters with our full-time joint staff — Army and Air Guard — and we can handle it if a hurricane clips one island, but if it hits multiple islands, or it hits Oahu hard, then we stand up this larger force, because we (may) have responses on multiple islands,” said National Guard spokesman Maj. Jeff Hickman.
Nearly 280 Hawaii Guard members are now on duty — including 120 still on Hawaii island for the Kilauea lava flow — but that number could rise by hundreds if rain or winds from Lane cause widespread damage, Hickman said.
Up to 3,000 Hawaii Army and Air Guard members are still available to help with storm relief, he said.
Hurricane Lane is unusual in that it is threatening multiple islands nearly simultaneously with wide-reaching rain bands, officials said. The National Weather Service said a flash flood warning remains in place for Hawaii County, and the rest of the state is in a flash flood watch.
Meteorologist Gavin Shigesato said the forecast calls for Lane to gradually weaken, with the expectation of maximum sustained winds of 75 mph at 8 a.m. Saturday.
But Shigesato said there haven’t yet been signs of Lane turning left and away from Oahu as predicted.
“It looks like it’s going to continue on this northerly track into the night,” he said. “And we are thinking that it’s going to be turning left … sometime tomorrow.”
A U.S. Army Pacific colonel was appointed as a JTF 5-0 deputy commander, who in turn has 10 to 15 staff.
“If Gen. Hara needs an asset that the Guard doesn’t have, he can turn right to the active duty (and say), ‘Hey, can you help me with that?’ ” Hickman said.
The active duty side has “so many engineering units, and they have more personnel,” he said. “They bring a lot to the table.”
A “warning order” already has been placed for big Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters from Kaneohe Bay to be on standby, Hickman said.
“Right now, nobody’s stranded,” he said. “We don’t need to move mass numbers of people. But it’s a (possible) scenario, so that’s there.”
One of the issues the task force already is looking at is if Lanai gets hit.
“We don’t have an armory or personnel on Lanai, so they are figuring out, ‘OK, so we’re going to have to be in tents. Where do we go?’ So they are researching that. How do we get them there? How many days of food do we send?” Hickman said.
Small National Guard task forces are based on most of the islands that can facilitate requests.
“Right now on Maui, they asked for military trucks. So we’re working with Maui County to get five trucks and 20 soldiers and airmen to assist with that mission,” Hickman said, adding that the high ground clearance vehicles will be handy with flooding.
The additional National Guard duty comes on top of Kauai flood and Big Island lava relief, and with about 1,000 Guard troops deploying this year and early next year to the Middle East and Europe.
About 80 soldiers will have a deployment ceremony on Sunday ahead of assignment to the Sinai mission in Egypt.
A separate Joint Task Force 5-0 was set up for the early days of lava relief, but has since been disbanded.
“The good thing is that we’re getting good at it,” Hickman said. “Now we’re an experienced emergency management response team.”