Preparing for natural disasters less costly than recovery
The Indian Ocean tsunami and hurricanes in the Gulf Coast have spurred improvements in disaster preparedness in Hawaii.
THE one-year anniversary
of the tsunami that devastated a vast region around the Indian Ocean serves as a reminder of Hawaii's need to be ready for natural disasters like that one or like Hurricane Katrina.
Among spending proposals the state Legislature will review next year are several that would anticipate such catastrophes and lessen damage, injuries and loss of life. Paying for preparedness will be less costly than recovery in the long run.
In many ways, Hawaii is in a better position than other areas because of its experience with previous storms and tsunamis, but as memories of disasters fade, so do residents' awareness of the dangers. A key element of any plan for disasters should be education.
The U.S. tsunami warning system got a silver-lined lift after the destructive waves struck South and Southeast Asia.
An infusion of federal funds will mean that the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center here will get round-the-clock staffing next year. At present, staff members are on call at night and on weekends and though they can get to the center in just a few minutes, a locally generated tsunami can reach populated areas just as quickly.
In 1975, an earthquake beneath the southern coast of the Big Island created a tsunami that struck the town of Punaluu immediately after the temblor and Hilo in less than 20 minutes. With staff on duty, the center's crucial goal will be to issue a wave warning within 90 seconds of a quake.
Similar staffing also is needed for state civil defense operations, one of the initiatives Governor Lingle has proposed for emergency improvement. She also has suggested upgrading state buildings so they can be used as shelters, providing tax credits for private property owners to strengthen their facilities and partially reimbursing residents who fortify their homes. Her plan provides no money to improve county buildings, which lawmakers should consider nonetheless.
The state would use some of the $6 million a year in interest earned through the Hurricane Emergency Relief Fund to pay for improvements. That would be a more fitting use for the money that is now diverted to the state treasury and spent on other projects.
The governor's plan would stockpile supplies such as blankets, first-aid kits and bottled water in locations across the state, increase education and emergency training at schools, care homes and other facilities and boost communications equipment statewide.
Hawaii has been named the first state to be designated tsunami- and storm-ready by the National Weather Service. It is a distinction that goes along with the heightened risks that confront the islands.
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