Isle disaster plan fails review
The head of state Civil Defense acknowledges that mass evacuation procedures need work
Hawaii's plan to handle a catastrophe fails to meet federal standards and has not been updated in more than four years, according to a Department of Homeland Security review.
In response, Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, the state's adjutant general, acknowledged yesterday that the Hawaii plan is inadequate in one area: mass evacuations.
As for when it was last revised, Lee said, "The plan is kind of in constant update."
The Homeland Security analysis, which is based on state responses to a survey and was ordered by Congress and President Bush, was released this week as the department has come under fire for its response to Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast region.
On Nov. 23 the department asked all states to compile a self-assessment on their emergency plans, including when they were last used and updated.
Hawaii and West Virginia were the only states that said they were not meeting federal standards. Wyoming did not respond to the survey.
Hawaii's responses were not made public at the time, but the Homeland Security review was obtained this week by the Associated Press. The analysis covered all states, five U.S. territories, the District of Columbia and the nation's 75 largest cities.
Hawaii and West Virginia said they believed their states' basic emergency plans were inadequate and inconsistent with federal requirements. Hawaii joined 21 other states in saying officials were not confident that evacuation plans would work if a disaster were to strike, according to the review.
Hawaii, West Virginia and Oregon were the three states with the longest gap since updating emergency plans, each saying it has been four years or more.
Lee, the head of state Civil Defense, said his agency put together the Hawaii assessment with the help of county governments. He said mass evacuations pose a special problem for the isolated island state, which is why the Legislature has been asked to fund an emergency preparedness plan that calls for more shelters.
In the event of a catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina, Lee said the state's plan calls for the evacuation of tourists and people with special medical needs.
"And then the rest of the folks who can't drive away to a neighboring state need to get to our shelters, which is why the No. 1 priority on the emergency preparedness package is to get more shelter space."
Lee said a Homeland Security team will arrive in Hawaii in a few months to look at the state's mass evacuation preparedness.
Citing security concerns, Lenny Klompus, spokesman for Gov. Linda Lingle, said it would be "impossible" to release details about Hawaii's self-assessment.
Klompus also disputed the assessment's accuracy, even though it is based on the state's response to a federal questionnaire.
"When Secretary (Tom) Ridge was here, everyone was saying we were rated triple-A," Klompus said about a visit by the former secretary of Homeland Security in November 2004.
"Nobody has the kind of infrastructure and guidelines and policies that we do," Klompus said.
The last time Hawaii used its basic emergency plan was about two years ago, according to the review, which did not elaborate on what the plan was used for at the time.
Lee said the plan has only been used on a small scale in recent years for such things as area evacuations ordered for hazardous-material threats.
Several agencies are involved in the nationwide review, including the Department of Transportation, the Defense Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Former emergency and Homeland Security officials are reviewing data before determining planning and assistance needs for each state.
A final report is scheduled to be issued by June 1, which marks the official start of the 2006 hurricane season.
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka said yesterday he was "stunned" to learn that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff was not aware that Hawaii was not protected by the U.S. Northern Command, the office responsible for homeland defense.
In a congressional hearing, Akaka (D-Hawaii) also criticized the Homeland Security Department for not establishing an office in Hawaii more than three years after such a consolidation was required.
Akaka urged Chertoff, who testified before the committee, to create the Hawaii outpost, noting that the islands cannot rely on immediate assistance from neighboring states.
"I am more convinced than ever that the Pacific needs a DHS regional office that will work with state and local officials directly and understands the unique needs of Hawaii and Pacific territories," Akaka said.
Associated Press reporter Greg Small contributed to this report.