STAR-BULLETIN / OCTOBER 2006
Local communities have an advantage in disaster preparedness because residents have seen the effects firsthand, a law enforcement trainer says. Here, Waimea resident Raymond Yamasaki points out damage to his home caused by an earthquake.
Crisis plan praised
Experience in disaster preparedness gives the Big Isle an edge, a top trainer says
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii » Despite its separation from Oahu and the mainland, the Big Island might be better prepared to bounce back from disaster than most other areas, according to a top law enforcement trainer.
"Being aware of what's going on around you is really part of the culture here," said Brian Kauffman, executive director of the Western Community Policing Institute, set up by the federal government.
"People really are connected and look out for each other. That closeness of the tight-knit communities is something the mainland could learn from."
Kauffman conducted a two-day training seminar earlier this month for first responders -- police, firefighters, private security and others who might be called on during emergencies caused by natural disaster, major accidents or terrorism.
The seminar on creating vigilant, prepared and resilient communities for homeland security was aimed at preparing plans for a variety of emergencies.
Kauffman praised the plans drafted by teams at the seminar and said they would be submitted to the county for possible use.
Hawaii communities, especially those on the neighbor islands, have an advantage when it comes to preparedness because many residents have seen firsthand what can happen, Kauffman said.
Small towns in Kansas or Missouri might never have faced a tornado or had to pick up after one, but Kauffman said the majority of people in Hawaii have had to ride out an earthquake or prepare for an approaching hurricane.
"People in Hawaii really know their threats. When we ask at the beginning of a seminar in Hawaii, they right away can list them off -- hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes. Other places, they are not sure what threats there even are," he said.
His institute and 26 others are funded by the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security and have been conducting preparedness programs around the country. The western training group operates out of Western Oregon University and conducts seminars in Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.
Even with some 87,000 federal, state, local and tribal government entities across the country, help might not always be immediate in more remote areas such as the Big Island, Kauffman said.
Residents on all Hawaii islands essentially know that and have a tradition of caring for each other in times of crisis, he said. "If something happens, they pretty much know they are on their own, for the first while anyway."
Coming together after an event, being resourceful and having to rely on each other more so than in other states has helped Hawaii foster an almost trademark resilience, he said.
"I definitely have a better understanding of what homeland security is," said Dustin Ballesteros, a former police officer who now is security manager at a resort-luxury residential complex in Kona.
"Initially, everybody's idea is that government should just protect us from terrorists, but we all have responsibilities and duties in any type of emergency case," he said.
Hart Phillips, a member of the Honaunau Community Emergency Response Team, said the planning sessions will help with communication.