Always Investigating

Keeping communities connected after disaster a high priority

First the Kauai flooding, then the volcano disaster on Hawaii Island. Both resulted in communities being cut off, and bring attention to whether we're prepared for more of these situations. 

Always Investigating wanted to know from emergency officials, how are they planning for the worst and making sure that communities statewide can stay better connected in a time of disaster? 

The volcanic emergency led to both optional and some mandatory evacuations for a small section of the Big Island, and many took heed especially as lava came in closer to key roadways 

"I was down there last week, I saw household goods on vehicles in trailers and people making the move," said Talmadge Magno of Hawaii County Civil Defense, "so they started early, which is good."

But then faster-moving lava crossed Highway 137, cutting off some residents and requiring airlifts to get five out over two days. 

"First flight this morning," Magno said Saturday, "they went in and recovered that one gentleman who hunkered down and  stayed safe all night and Hawaii Fire Department was able to chopper him out."

"My biggest worry is people being trapped honestly, it's a very dynamic situation," said Carolyn Parcheta, a geologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory. "That's hard to get around quickly if you don't know it's coming."

Isolation and evacuation have jumped to top concerns for emergency planners and experts tasked with tracking and responding to the lava threat, and that's right on the heels of the floods that trapped whole communities on Kauai's north shore just weeks prior. 

KHON2 asked, are there some hot-spot, more isolated communities that are already in the minds of stakeholders in terms of, when this is all over on the Big Island and Kauai, we've got to go look at these communities? 

"Absolutely," said David Lopez, critical systems planner at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. "And I'm sure in each county, I'm very confident that the emergency management or CD administrator of each county is looking at what's going on and saying, 'Well what would happen if that was my island or my jurisdiction? No doubt these two events once they settle down will become the focus of after-action reviews and lessons learned. There's a lot of lessons that will be learned from this."

We asked, what are the red-flag types of communities that come to mind? 

"Any time that you have one way in or what we would call a single point of failure," Lopez said, "so that's the biggest key when you look at communities in isolation." 

He said the communities are mapped island-by-island.

"You look at the points of access, of course ground is the first thing you look at," Lopez said.

In addition to access on the ground, they also look to air, landing zone, and sea options as a backup for rescue and resupply. 

KHON2 asked if Hi-EMA will regroup and take a look at these other vulnerable communities, their exit routes, and their alternate exit routes to make sure that these backup plans are in place?

"Yes, that's what we do when there's no other emergencies," Lopez said, "how to go forward with all of these type of plans, or come together and get them to the point where they're executable."

Once disaster strikes, the priority shifts to specific locations and defining a forward or resupply zone, any blocked areas like landslide or lava-covered roads, and the isolated zone. 

And as we've seen that isolation zone can happen quickly. Experts say personal readiness is a big help, beyond just a well-stock 14-day emergency supply kit. In terms of individual preparedness people should be adding a consciousness about "if I had to evacuate, what do I take quickly because I might not go back?" 

"Our advice is to look at things in 2 or 3 layers," Lopez said. "There'd be the planned one that's more deliberate, you know things are starting to get bad. There's unfortunately the last one where it's an emergency or in extremes where people have to leave quickly."

"You want to construct your plan and think about it in steps from start to finish," Lopez says of your personal evacuation plan, "and have it lined out and have your family know what the plan is too, make sure they understand it."

KHON2 will follow up on what comes of the lessons learned and the action plans put in place so that next time a disaster hits your community, you'll stand a better chance of staying better connected. 

Click here for the state's Emergency Operations Plan, which includes the topic of evacuation.

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