The City and County of Honolulu updated a federally required disaster plan, and this time around it focuses more on climate change and moving away from the shoreline.
Trying to head off costly damage in advance of storms and floods by reducing risk along the coastlines over the long term is an idea shared by state and other county disaster planners, too, but getting from concept to rules and regulations is another matter.
In order to stay eligible for federal hazard grants, states and counties across the nation have to turn in plans to FEMA every five years. Honolulu started working on its latest version last summer with community input and experts such as structural engineers and urban planners.
“I hope that this is a plan that encompasses all those different voices into a plan that we can all be proud of,” said Hiro Toiya, director of Honolulu’s Department of Emergency Management.
Recently FEMA approved Honolulu’s 2019 “Multi-Hazard Pre-Disaster Mitigation Plan,” which basically tells the feds what the city is trying to do to prevent damage and reduce costs when disaster strikes.
“As the saying goes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” Toiya said, “and the saying is true also for disasters.”
The topics outlined this go-around are similar to a statewide version of the mitigation plan that the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency turned in to FEMA last year, in terms of climate change being focused on more than ever before, and more references to an idea called “managed retreat” — phasing out homes and businesses from the riskiest areas before they’re lost to sea level rise or continual flooding.
“When something does happen, we’ve got to build back smarter,” Toiya said. “We can’t keep building back the same place in the same way.”
The Honolulu plan suggests creating a score card that looks at coastal risks and to help decide what to save and what to move.
It weighs adaptation to sea-level rise between whether to protect properties with things like sea walls and sand replenishment, or retreat away from repetitive-loss areas.
The plan says the city should create a Coastal Construction Control Zone to account for 2 feet of sea-level rise as a criteria for allowing any development or variances.
The plan does not establish new zoning or building codes, lists of targeted properties, nor any money for buyouts or swap offers. Things like that would have to go through law- and rule-making processes that would take years.
“It really talks about the ‘what,’” Toiya said, “but we need to work together with all of our stakeholders to really get down into the details of ‘how.’”
Whatever doesn’t come about through preventive measures and code changes may end up happening anyway post-disaster. The city also continues to evolve its separate disaster recovery plan to also look at areas that may be too risky to keep protecting.
“When a disaster occurs, there’s going to be incredible pressure to just put things back the way it was,” Toiya said, “but we want to make sure that it doesn’t happen that way and that we’re being smart about the recovery
The other three counties in Hawaii have mitigation plans due to FEMA next year. We’ll follow up on what direction those take for dealing with risks ahead of catastrophes.