Thursday, May 19, 2005

Backers of disaster-plan
bill optimistic

The proposal seeks funds to
improve state crisis preparedness

With the start of hurricane season less than two weeks away, supporters of a proposal to spend $4 million from the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund to better prepare the state for a natural disaster say they are hopeful the bill will win the support of Gov. Linda Lingle.

Lingle, who says she will not commit to signing any proposal until it is thoroughly reviewed by her administration, has opposed raids of special funds in the past.

"Governor Lingle has an open mind," said Jerry Peters, a member of the Hawaii Lumber Products Association who helped shepherd the emergency preparedness funding proposal through the Legislature this year. "We understand she is seriously considering the bill because it has a nexus to its purpose -- it's for the safety of the public."

Similar proposals have passed previous Legislatures, Peters said, only to be vetoed for various reasons.

This year, the focus of the bill was expanded to include preparation for not only hurricanes, but other natural disasters such as tsunamis like those that struck southern Asia late last year.

Money allocated under Senate Bill 960 would go toward:

» Updating flood-zone maps and expanding public-education campaigns.
» Installing and maintaining alarm sirens and providing around-the-clock alert staff.
» Constructing additional shelter space.
» Retrofitting public shelters.
» Developing residential safe room design standards.

"We will not forget the gruesome images of the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami," House Public Safety Chairman Ken Ito said in his floor speech supporting the proposal. "In order to avoid similar disasters from occurring, it is our state's duty and responsibility to prepare our citizens by raising awareness, improving emergency shelters, updating sirens and providing around-the-clock emergency service."

Earlier this year, officials from state Civil Defense told lawmakers that if tsunamis on the scale of those that struck southern Asia were to hit Hawaii, the state would need emergency shelter space for about 175,000 people on all islands.

Civil Defense was seeking $2 million in each of the next two fiscal years to be able to increase shelter space for about 40,000 people statewide.

Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the state's defense director, said he has not yet spoken with the governor about the proposal to allocate money from the hurricane fund for the preparedness efforts.

"I think she kind of wants to get the various parties to come on in" and discuss the issue, Lee said.

Lingle has until July 12 to make the final determination on all bills before her.

The hurricane relief fund, which is not taking in money and not issuing insurance with a total now estimated at $191 million, was established as a way to provide coverage for homeowners after insurers stopped issuing policies in Hawaii following the devastation caused by Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

Office of the Governor

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