UH-Manoa emergency plan passes its first test
The response to rains in March offers hope for future mobilization
University of Hawaii officials used their new emergency operations plan for the first time March 31 as heavy rain threatened to overflow Manoa Stream near the campus. At a command center in a Hawaii Hall conference room, Neal Smastrek, UH-Manoa vice president for academic affairs, and campus security Capt. Donald Dawson monitored rising waters at the Woodlawn Drive Bridge, where the stream overflowed during the Oct. 30, 2004, flood that caused $83 million in damage.
Kathleen Cutshaw, UH-Manoa's interim vice chancellor for administration, finance and operations, used cell phone and land lines to keep in contact with Smastrek, building maintenance personnel and deans and directors of buildings that could have been affected by flooding.
At the same time, UH-Manoa professor Tom Schroeder, a meteorologist, monitored the progress of the storm on the National Weather Service Web site.
At the command center, administrators kept track of efforts to clear drains and respond to roof leaks and were able to let people know what to do if flooding occurred.
There were a few communications problems, Cutshaw said. But overall, she thought "it was a highly efficient organization."
Eventually, UH-Manoa would like to create a permanent emergency response center on campus with improved communications that could be used in any emergency situation such as a hurricane or even a terrorist attack, Cutshaw said.
The Legislature approved planning money for a new information technology building, which would house the center and the university's computer network.
UH-Manoa is also hoping to set up a temporary command center in the basement of Sinclair Library. Cutshaw said the temporary command center will only require additional phone lines. The university is also checking to see if the basement meets fire codes.
Manoa's emergency plan is being circulated on campus for comment. Eventually, each of the 10 UH campuses is supposed to come up with its own plans to handle an emergency on campus.
The Manoa plan is more of an general operational manual rather than a document with specific steps of what to do in case of a hurricane or other disaster.
Schroeder said plans already exist that deal with the specifics of responding to chemical spills, fires and other emergencies.
The new emergency response plan defines three levels of emergencies ranging from minor incidents like a plumbing failure or odor complaint, to emergency incidents like a building fire or major chemical spill, to a disaster like a hurricane or tsunami.
The plan is part of the university's response to security and safety concerns raised in March 2004 after a series of burglaries on the Manoa campus.
A report issued by a committee on campus security last year noted that the university lacked emergency protocols, programs, training and research and development to prepare for campus emergencies.
In assessing the university's preparedness for an emergency, Schroeder said the biggest deficiency is the lack of shelters for dorm residents in the event of a hurricane or other major disaster.
It is a statewide problem, Schroeder noted. The entire state is short by about 174,000 emergency shelter beds.
Places like the Campus Center, originally planned to be an emergency shelter, do not meet new standards established since the center was built. The Campus Center is surrounded by glass windows, which could shatter in a hurricane, Schroeder said.
He said the university is working with state Civil Defense and the American Red Cross to identify other buildings that could be used as shelters.
But the process could be expensive and require construction money as some of the buildings may need to be retrofitted to withstand a hurricane.