State explores aid
Some say a plan to facilitate
emergency relief among states
could have a high cost
Hawaii is considering joining a nationwide compact that lets states share emergency aid during times of disaster, but some worry the agreement could prove costly to the islands.
Hawaii became last week the only U.S. state that does not participate in the 1996 Emergency Management Assistance Compact after California lawmakers approved that state's participation Thursday at the urging of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In Hawaii the state attorney general's office has been asked by Gov. Linda Lingle's administration to draft a bill for next year's legislative session that could lead to Hawaii's participation in the compact, said Deputy Attorney General Michael Vincent.
The compact's goal is to facilitate state-to-state manpower and aid distribution during times of disaster. But by agreeing to take part in it, states are bound by law to comply with requests for emergency assistance, Vincent said.
Hawaii's isolation is a concern because it is unclear whether the compact guarantees that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would reimburse the state for expensive transportation costs, said Ray Lovell, spokesman for Hawaii's office of Civil Defense.
"If we bring these people ... we pay all the transportation costs; we pick up the bill for all that," he said. "It may or may not be reimbursed."
Vincent said while the law works well in bordering states, nothing guarantees the same would apply to Hawaii, which is separated from the nearest state by thousands of miles of ocean.
"It's a matter of economics," he said. "It costs a lot more for us to get our people somewhere. If we ask for help, it's going to cost us a lot more to bring them over."
Vincent said only states under federal disaster status are eligible for reimbursement. Even then, they still need to cover 25 percent of relief costs.
"That's where it gets interesting. ... If you don't have a federally declared disaster to help pay for that, you are on the hook," he said. "We have to fund the money and hope to get reimbursed later."
Previous attempts to have Hawaii participate in the compact have been unsuccessful. A bill sent to lawmakers during the last legislative session was sent back because it was incorrectly worded, Vincent said.
Hawaii's strong military presence helps make up for its lack of neighboring states.
Hawaii has relied in the past on an agreement to mobilize about 200,000 active military personnel in the state at any time to manage local emergencies, such as when Hurricane Iniki ravaged Kauai 13 years ago, on Sept. 11, 1992.
"They've been willing to help us," Lovell said. "We do have a plan in place."
Even without the compact, Hawaii has so far sent at least eight state workers to the mainland to help with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
Danny Tengan, a state Civil Defense worker, traveled to a shelter in Houston where he planned to spend 21 days with American Red Cross workers caring for refugees from flood-ravaged New Orleans.
Seven mental health workers with the state Department of Health also were cleared this weekend to assist the refugees.
All are covered by a Hawaii law passed two years ago that lets state and county employees certified by the Red Cross take up to 30 days' paid leave from their jobs to serve as disaster relief volunteers.