Reservoir scare reveals gaps in emergency action plans, awareness


The public risk associated with dam overflows or failures is so significant, state law requires emergency action plans on file for all 132 regulated dams and reservoirs. Always Investigating found some gaps, especially when it comes to community awareness.

Emergency action plans — or EAPs — for each and every dam are a matter of law and have been for more than a decade since Kaloko burst and killed seven on Kauai.

Click here to view the City and County of Honolulu Emergency Operations Plan. (See pages 640-718 on “unsafe dam/reservoir evacuation and sheltering,” including 

“When water level gets within 1 foot lower than top of dam itself, that’s when it triggers mandatory evacuations,” said Ernie Lau, manager and chief engineer at the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.”

That’s news to many within the 10,000-person evacuation zone on a map the Board of Water Supply gave media Thursday. The map is dated September 2018.

Click here to view the evacuation map for Nuuanu Reservoir #1 as provided by the Board of Water Supply on Thursday. (Marked as draft with September 2018 as the creation date)

**UPDATE: The Board of Water Supply released the Emergency Action Plan for Nuuanu Reservoir #1 Friday. Click here to view the full story.**

There aren’t dam evacuation maps handy like there are for tsunamis or flood zones, and telling the public to beware of reservoir risks has not been part of the regular state, county or federal storm-prep messaging.

“It’s an opportunity for us to improve outreach,” Lau said. “Much like what we tell everybody for preparing for a hurricane, 14 days of food and water, I think likewise I am going to view this as an opportunity for the people that are in this potential evacuation zone as add another preparation plan to your kit, on having to do an evacuation on short notice in the unlikely case the dam might fail.”

Separately from the dam-specific EAPs, we found the county’s Emergency Operations Plan covers dam and reservoir evacuation scenarios. That plan has been on the books for more than 10 years, and it’s tailored as an emergency officials’ handbook more than for public guidance.

Always Investigating had to dig to find evacuation maps, and there are just a few. It does have everything from agency task checklists to a fill in the blank emergency alert script.

The plan highlights three giant basins: Wahiawa, with billions of gallons and an evacuation map covering a swath all the way to Waialua and Haleiwa; Kaneohe’s reservoir, perched above thousands of homes, businesses and several schools that would have less than a half hour to escape; and Nuuanu #4 — several times bigger than Nuuanu #1 – which also has many homes and schools in an evacuation zone with narrow and curvy streets.

Though the county plan cites those three it also says “…since any dam or reservoir could fail… this plan also provides general guidelines and responsibilities for responding to any unsafe condition or failure.”

This morning the county weighed how to reach out if the Nuuanu #1 threat grew.

“We refined our plans this morning,” explained Hirokazu Toiya with the Honolulu Department of Emergency Management. “We have an incident management team activated to look at specifically what type of resources we’re going to need and how they would strategically approach the evacuation notification.”

“Tropical Storm Olivia put a lot of stress on everyone,” Lau said, “and I guess this is actually an opportunity to communicate more to our community about these dams that exist in their communities and to actually prepare them.”

Excerpts from the City and County of Honolulu Emergency Operations Plan:

Nuuanu Dam #4 Evacuation / Roadblock Matrix

Major facilities to be evacuated

  • International College
  • Nuuanu Valley Park
  • Jackass Ginger Swimming Hole
  • Nuuanu Elementary School
  • Hawaii Baptist Academy
  • Kapena Falls Swimming Hole

Evacuation shelters / areas

  • Maemae Elementary School
  • Pali Golf Course Club House
  • Nuuanu Pali State Park / Pali Lookout


  • Intersections of the Kailua-bound lanes of Pali Highway only
  • Nuuanu Pali Drive
  • Ala Kimo Drive
  • Old Pali Road
  • Dowsett Avenue (North and South)
  • Puiwa Road
  • Laimi Road
  • Moanawai Place
  • Akamu Place
  • Kepola Place
  • Homelani Place
  • Wood Street

Additional roadblocks may be established, identified, or canceled by on-scene officials.

Kaneohe Dam Evacuation / Roadblock Matrix

Major facilities to be evacuated

  • Kaneohe Fire Station
  • Kaneohe Library
  • Kaneohe Police Station
  • Kaneohe Sewage Treatment Plant
  • Kaneohe Shopping Center
  • Parker Elementary
  • Puohala Elementary
  • Puohala Playground

Evacuation shelters / areas

  • Castle High School
  • Heeia Elementary
  • Kaneohe District Park
  • Kaneohe Elementary
  • Kapunahala Elementary
  • King Intermediate


  • Likelike Highway and Anoi Road
  • Kamehameha Highway and Keaahale Road
  • Kaneohe Bay Drive and Kamehameha Highway
  • Kaneohe Bay Drive and Makalani Road
  • Kaneohe Bay Drive and Puohala Road
  • Waikalua Road and Waikapoki Road

Additional roadblocks may be established, identified, or canceled by on-scene officials.

Wahiawa Dam Evacuation / Roadblock Matrix

Major facilities to be evacuated

  • Haleiwa Alii Beach Park
  • Haleiwa Boat Harbor
  • Haleiwa Elementary School
  • Haleiwa Post Office
  • Haleiwa Shopping Plaza
  • Kaiaka State Recreation Area
  • Kemoo Camp #4
  • Otake Camp
  • Paalaa Kai Housing
  • Puuiki Beach Park
  • Waialua Clinic
  • Waialua Elementary School
  • Waialua Fire Station
  • Western Haleiwa Beach Park

Evacuation shelters / areas

  • Eastern Haleiwa Beach Park
  • Waialua Community Center
  • Waialua High School


  • Cane Haul Road intersection (southeast of sugar mill)
  • Farrington Highway and Kahui Street
  • Helemano and Kaukonahua Road
  • Kamehameha Highway and Kahalewai Place
  • Kaheaka Road and Kaukonahua Road
  • Puuiki Street and Kealohanui Road
  • Thompson Corner
  • Waialua Beach Road and Apuhihi Street
  • Weed Circle

Additional roadblocks may be established, identified, or canceled by on-scene officials.

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