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StarBulletin.com

Hurricane readiness


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POSTED: Saturday, August 29, 2009

Question: In a hurricane, should we stay in an apartment or go to a shelter? I asked this question three times of civil defense officials and no one was ever able to give a full answer. Where are there specific instructions for apartment dwellers on the Hawaii State Civil Defense Web page? The answer, of course, is that it depends on the type of apartment structure and if there are windows or lanais. It would help if they issue specific instructions for the different topology of apartments. There are thousands of residents in apartments on Oahu and elsewhere, many elderly and handicapped. If they all go to shelters, the shelters will be inadequate to accommodate both apartment and single-family residents. If you get a real answer, you may help to save lives!

Answer: The answer is, as you noted, that it depends on the structure of the apartment or condominium building and whether there is adequate protection from the wind.

“;The big rule of thumb is that you don't want to be anywhere close to a window that's not covered on the outside that would really protect it,”; said Ray Lovell, spokesman for Hawaii State Civil Defense. “;And you don't want to be someplace in a hallway where the wind can blow through that hallway.”;

That goes for single-family homes, as well as multi-unit buildings.

“;We are encouraging people, more and more, to think of their home as their first shelter choice,”; but only if it meets safety requirements, Lovell said.

If not, then they should head to a designated public shelter (mainly schools; see Kokua Line, June 20, 2009).

Civil defense officials have discussed posting information online about what apartment dwellers should do in the event of a hurricane, but “;it's so conditional”; and “;really complicated to explain,”; Lovell said.

“;We don't want to confuse people or have them make bad decisions because of what we wrote down.”;

Instead, he advises the public—residents of both apartments and single-family homes—to go to the Civil Defense Web site, www.scd.hawaii.gov, and click on “;contact”; to ask for more information.

(E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), call 733-4300, fax 733-4287 or send a letter to 3949 Diamond Head Road, Honolulu, HI 96816-4495.)

Lovell said you may not be able to get an answer about a specific apartment building, but you could ask if it's possible for someone to check it out.

He also suggested first contacting the resident manager or condominium association, if there is one, since State Civil Defense has an ongoing program with associations of condominium owners and managers to help make their buildings safer.

State Civil Defense does not certify any building as being hurricane safe—“;We really can't take that responsibility”;—but it will make recommendations on what can and needs to be done, Lovell said.

Just in general, if you live in an old wooden apartment building, then you should head for a public shelter.

If you live in a low-rise, hollow-tile apartment building or a high-rise concrete, reinforced steel building, “;you may be able to shelter in place”; under certain conditions, Lovell said.

It really depends on the structures and its doors and windows, he said. Among the conditions to consider:

» Is there a bathroom with a small window that you could cover tightly with a piece of plywood so it won't blow out, or an interior hallway, without windows, that could be used as a shelter?

» Does the building have interior hallways, with no windows at either end, that could be used as a shelter?

» Are there enclosed stairwells, without any windows, that can be used as a shelter, with doors that can be securely closed?

A stairwell may “;not be real comfortable”; to stay in for several hours, but, when filled to capacity, public “;shelters are not going to be particularly comfortable,”; either, Lovell said.

“;It would be more comfortable if you can shelter in place, at home ... as long as that apartment building or house is strong enough to shelter you and is built appropriately.”;

Homes with double-wall or hollow-tile construction could be used as a shelter, although homeowners may need to make modifications, such as having heavy, 3/4 -inch plywood cut and ready to place over windows before a storm arrives.

“;We don't encourage anyone in a single-wall construction home to shelter in place,”; Lovell said.