Sunday, September 10, 2006


Disappeared disaster plans - we get 404 for a shelter list

It is possible to be prepared for disaster and there are practical ways to speed up the project. I'll describe one methodology that our state and county might employ to get the job done. We need to push them to adopt this or something like it, or it's clear to me that we will be in big trouble when disaster should strike.

After last week's traffic jam fiasco, which demonstrated again that Oahu has failed to have a plan in place when there should have been one, I decided to revisit the issue of disaster preparedness.

First, let me say that I agree with and find very scary today's Star-Bulletin editorial Bureaucratic inaction caused motorist misery.
GOVERNOR Lingle has acknowledged that the state could have done more to deal with Tuesday's traffic debacle, but blame can be dished out at every level of government. No plan was in place for dealing with a lengthy shutdown of the H-1 freeway, as was apparent to everyone trapped for up to eight hours inching Ewa from downtown.

.  .  .

Lingle says the state Civil Defense will be notified promptly about any future closure of a freeway. The state needs to create a comprehensive plan to deal with such a situation if it should again arise, including ways to turn parts of the freeway into contra-flow lanes.
Last week it was a bridge. Imagine that a storm approaches Hawaii and trees go down on the freeways in various places. Last week's gridlock was a dry run for what we can expect.

Plans missing or inadequate

Many web surfers recognize the "404 - not found" message -- when you click a link and get a "404" it means that a web page that should be there isn't there any longer. Check this out:

This is from the site set up to provide public awareness and statewide information for Hawaii's citizens.

Sure, this could be an oversight, but on the other hand, other documents show that there is a huge shortage of shelter space on Oahu, for example.

It's too easy to put together cute little booklets urging people to keep adequate water on hand and make sure that their roofs are secured against high winds. These are important things to do, but they are insufficient.

We pay our taxes, and part of that money goes to civil defense. Building an early warning system and providing emergency shelters are responsibilities we assign to our government. At present, whether it is dam inspection, traffic management, or disaster preparedness, they are failing us badly. And the failure to plan and execute predictably will cost lives.

Let's go back to the "preparedness" web page for a moment:

The first four items are stuff that we have to do. Fair enough. Then we get to the part that the state or city should do, and we hit that "404" page. Yup, it's missing.

There's one thing not listed above: prayer. State civil defense vice director Ed Teixeira suggested in his presentation to Kokua Council's members as part of an August 28, 2006 panel on disaster preparedness that we pray a storm doesn't come.

And if it does? "In the event of disaster, bend over, grasp legs firmly, and kiss your ass goodbye."

No, he didn't say that, but the thought entered my mind instantly.

It's easy to be critical. On one hand, it's not my job, or most citizen's jobs, to do the work our government is charged with. We are not supposed to come up with shelter plans, inspect dams, or replace rusting or inoperative siren equipment. There's no harm in making suggestions, though.

Last year the state legislature held hearings on disaster preparedness in the days after New Orleans was flooded. Katrina was an example of how failure to plan and execute a preparedness program can and does result in massive loss of life. So I welcomed the hearings and attended or watched every minute of them on `Olelo.

The current state of our (un)preparedness at that point was scary. I felt that shelters should already be in place and the information readily available to every member of the public. Schools were to supposed to be used as shelters, but they were inadequate. Windows would blow in, and anyway, who knows where the keys to the rooms are? If a storm approaches are we supposed to call the principals to let us in or the janitors? Clearly, disaster preparedness was in a state of shambles.

My little contribution was to suggest to legislators on the committee that they embrace a common planning technique, and that the ongoing process be completely open to the public. Why open to the public? Because otherwise it won't be done. Remember, everyone was talking about a budget surplus while the dams went uninspected, the sirens unrepaired, and shelters are still non-existent. There was no surplus, only the profits of neglect.

There needs to be an open planning process so that we, the public, can push for the state and counties to do their jobs.

If we manage to get to a nearby school it will take more than prayer to open the doors and assign spaces to everyone.

I sent the following sample forms to legislators. These are just examples, hastily filled in. Basically, they outline a process of planning designed to bring us to an adequate level of disaster preparedness as quickly as possible. Sorry about the sideways orientation, the forms are a bit too wide for the computer screen.

These forms allow people to collaborate on a solution. Anyone can raise a concern and list it on the chart. A timeline is important, because without it, we, the people, have no assurance that anything is actually being done. In other words, if Farrington High School is supposed to be set up as a shelter, there needs to be a deadline, a time-certain, by which that will be done. We need to know who will do it, and who is responsible, as well as how much must be allocated to get the job done.

This information also benefits the legislature in deciding priorities and apportioning money. It also gives us a lever if the administration holds up any of the funds--we'll be able to see the consequences immediately (for example, we'll know that if money is not released, Farrington High School won't be ready).

If there are obstacles or barriers to completion of a project, they need to be listed. We have been given far too many Powerpoint presentations in which concerns are listed, but we are never told when or if the concern will be removed or what stands in the way of completion. If there is something preventing completion, there needs to be a plan in place to remove that obstacle.

In place of detailed plans we've been given mostly Powerpoint presentations. The bullet-point oversimplification of Powerpoint presentations only obscures the truth about our ability to plan and execute. Instead, we should have tools like the charts above which give us a more complete view. Legislators and state planners would do well to ban Powerpoint entirely from their informational briefings on disaster preparedness.

We need real plans and we need the process to start immediately.

Related articles on

Hawaii's medical infrastructure deteriorating, unready for disasters

Update: Lights out in the ER--Hawaii's deteriorating medical infrastructure

Disappearing Doctors: Hawaii looks for quick but questionable fixes

FEMA still not reformed

Why was Kauai's dam failure not prevented?

Must Hawaii repeat Louisiana's mistakes?


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