HONOLULU (KHON2) — More than a third of Honolulu’s hurricane emergency shelters were not up to par, according to the latest assessment by the city. That’s left some communities without a shelter for miles.
Honolulu has just 38 designated hurricane emergency shelters.
That’s down from 122 just a few years ago according to Hiro Toiya, the city emergency management director.
“We have space for approximately 100,000 people,” Toiya explained. “We do want to increase that capacity a little bit more.”
Toiya said their goal is to double that to fit 20% of the population. But it’s not that simple.
“We have very few buildings, public buildings in the state of Hawaii that actually meet the criteria for a hurricane shelter.”
According to Toiya, structural engineers looked at nearly 200 buildings to see how they’d withstand hurricane-force winds.
“The issue was most of these have not gone through detailed inspection prior to 2020,” Toiya said. “There were some assessments done prior to 2005 before new hurricane shelter standards were set by the state.”
Enchanted Lake Elementary School is one of eight schools in Kailua that used to be a designated hurricane emergency shelter. But the assessment by the city deemed it unfit.
In fact, all of the shelters in Kailua no longer meet the criteria.
Bill Hicks, the Kailua neighborhood board chair, said it’s concerning.
“To travel to Waimanalo or Kaneohe might be problematic if there are massive evacuations going on at the time,” Hicks said.
The North Shore is in the same boat according to Rep. Sean Quinlan who represents the district.
“For a long time, we’ve had shelters that are designated shelters, but are not rated for hurricane-force winds,” Quinlan explained. “One of them was in a flood zone–and that’s BYU Hawaii. So we lost BYU as a sort of official shelter. So now we’re just essentially completely out of luck.”
Kahuku Elementary School is still listed as an emergency shelter on the city’s website but Quinlan said he’s not sure it meets the criteria.
“It is a designated hurricane shelter, but to the best of my knowledge, its roof is not rated for hurricane-force winds,” Quinlan said.
Quinlan and Hicks said efforts are being made to address the problem in both areas to bring buildings up to code.
In a statement, HI-EMA Administrator Luke Meyers said:
“It takes a substantial investment in resources to bring a building up to national hurricane safety standards, and the engineer has to consider every aspect of that building from the roof to the ground it stands on. HI-EMA is assembling a long-term community-safety effort that could use Hawaii’s investments to tap into federal grant programs, making more funding available for shelters in each county and making sure that they meet national building code standards.”
Toiya is urging residents to prepare for an emergency now by strengthening their homes and devising an evacuation plan.
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“So really not just looking at it from what is the government going to do,” he said. “We definitely want this to be a whole community approach.”