offers Hawaii a
The state is uniquely equippedBy Susan Kreifels
to teach disaster management,
helping itself and the world, too
When a Hawaii business delegation visited South Korea last August to promote health-care services, rains swept in from China and killed more than 165 people in floods.
Janis Koh, project manager of the Oahu Economic Development Board, who was traveling with the delegation, carried information on agencies in Hawaii that specialize in disaster mitigation and management. The South Korean government took serious notice, and both sides saw a silver lining that caught the eye of the U.S. Department of Commerce as well.
"It was perfect timing," Koh said about the August trip. "We were perfectly matched."
Helping nations develop disaster programs, according to trade and disaster management experts, is uncharted territory that holds significant export potential for the United States, which is respected in the field. And Hawaii, experts here say, is home to an array of necessary agencies and services unmatched by any other state.
Most important, Hawaii is getting a head start in the business. South Korea, even though it has been in economic crisis for the past year, has still earmarked $100 million for a five-year disaster prevention plan, and a Korean delegation visited in November.
Now Koh and Bernice Bowers, who will both leave the Oahu Economic Development Board next week, are working with Korean officials to spearhead exports of Hawaii-based services and technology from government and nonprofit agencies as well as businesses. The exports include weather prediction, remote sensing, mapping, health care, sustainable development expertise and flood-insurance products. Koh hopes to create a model for other Asia-Pacific countries with similar needs.
Timing is key, and Jonathan Gradie, president of TerraSystems Inc., sees the opportunities. His company sells remote-sensing services using satellites and aircraft for mapping and environmental management, the stuff needed for disaster mitigation and insurance programs. Hawaii, he says, could lead the race.
"It's a growing field and it's very new," Gradie said. "There are no established players -- that is the key. Long range, this would be one of the better bets."
Koh invited T.S. Chung, director of the U.S. Commerce Department's Trade Advocacy Center, to help with the Korea initiative, and the experience opened his eyes to the export potential for the entire United States.
"We have been doing business in computers and satellites, but we never sensed that it related to disaster mitigation and management," Chung said in a phone interview. "There's a whole array of services and products. We believe there is potentially quite a significant, sizable market out there."
And Chung notes: "The Hawaii folks have already started working on it."
Woncheol C. Cho, director of South Korea's National Institute for Disaster Prevention, wrote to Chung this month that Seoul didn't want "to lose momentum from the Hawaii mission."
"This is very important to people," Cho said in a phone interview. His plans include using the Maui supercomputer and training with the state Civil Defense in May. His delegation also visited businesses that offer products and services his country will need.
One was R.M. Towill Corp. Roy Tsutsui, the engineering company's vice president, sees opportunities in surveying, mapping and flood studies needed for insurance development.
"How they can build, what they can build -- Korea doesn't have that," Tsutsui said.
Cost in damage as well as in lives is triggering attention. As countries develop, disasters become more expensive. The cost of disaster relief around the world skyrocketed last year to $89 billion -- more than the total spent in the 1980s.
Seventy percent of the world's natural disasters hit the Asia-Pacific region, where citizens with growing incomes and expectations are starting to demand better performance from their governments. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations now has a disaster forum.
Even countries like Japan that have the technology still lack disaster coordination and management. The Japanese government came under heavy criticism for slow rescue and relief efforts after the 1995 Kobe earthquake that killed 6,300 people.
Russell Fujita, spokesman for the Hawaii State Chapter of the Americn Red Cross, said the Red Cross has always believed countries needed to develop disaster mitigation programs.
Dr. Frederick "Skip" Burkle Jr., who directs the federally funded Center of Excellence in Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance at Tripler Army Medical Center, said the United Nations requires it. "There's no doubt governments are becoming more aware of this," said Burkle, whose organization serves as a clearinghouse to meet the needs of relief efforts around the world.
Much of what Hawaii offers in the field may be little known to the public, like the federally funded Pacific Disaster Center in Maui and the Center of Excellence in Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance. Both are one-of-a-kind agencies.
Hawaii also offers:
Tripler's telemedicine unit, a leader in innovation.
Observation and forecast centers for major weather disasters in the region -- tsunami, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes and flooding.
The headquarters for the U.S. Pacific Command, which is active in disaster and relief efforts in the region.
A highly respected and well-coordinated civil defense system.
The Maui High Performance Computing Center.
"We are wired," said Roy Price, vice director of state Civil Defense. "We have access to information that most states don't dream of getting."
Burkle, a 10-year UH professor of pediatrics, surgery and public health, said Hawaii has a "solid reputation" in disaster management already. "Hawaii has gone at it with vengeance to try to solve problems," Burkle said. "A lot of these countries want to learn from a domestic disaster situation. Right there is an exportable product."
Burkle, who emphasized that the Center of Excellence is noncompetitive, said the private sector gets involved by learning what the needs are -- engineering, planning, logistics -- and then supplying them.
Becoming the leader in disaster management is not pie in the sky for Hawaii, experts stressed. But it requires the state and other agencies to cooperate in a noncompetitive way lest they lose opportunities as they have in the past.
"Hawaii has more resources than anywhere else, but we don't know it," Burkle said. "The resources are totally disconnected. We've been looking inside rather than outside. If we don't pull together there will be groups leapfrogging Hawaii."
Hawaii poised for
leadership role in
A federal facility at Tripler ArmyBy Susan Kreifels
Medical Center plus the Pacific
Disaster Center offer a solid
base of disaster resources
Thousands of questions are pulled up on the computer screen. Are you pregnant? Do you have cattle? Camels? Medicine? Are there roadblocks to your village?
Questions that are a matter of life and death to people who have survived flood, tsunami or earthquake. But ones that may not be understood when international relief workers can't speak the local languages.
Now pop another key and the computer asks the questions in Bengali, Mandarin, Korean or any of five other languages.
"The Koreans loved it," said Dr. Frederick "Skip" Burkle Jr., director of the Center of Excellence in Disaster Management & Humanitarian Assistance at Tripler Army Medical Center.
A South Korean delegation was here in November looking for help with their national disaster program.
"They were chatting about it like crazy," Burkle said.
The computer program is one of the innovations at the Department of Defense-funded autonomous agency at Tripler. The center, opened in 1994, is a clearinghouse for international training, research, information management and operational readiness for disaster management.
It's one of the places that makes Hawaii a leader in disaster-management resources.
The staff of 20 works with academics, relief agencies and governments around the world, handling everything from political conflicts to natural disasters.
It's the only World Health Organization collaborating center that helps civilians and the military break down barriers and work together during relief operations. The center convinced Switzerland, for the first time, to allow military members to take the Swiss Health Emergencies in Large Populations Course, which will be taught for the fourth year at the University of Hawaii.
Dr. Patricia Hastings, an Army doctor at the center, said another mission is trying to predict and prevent the Rwandas and Bosnias of the world.
Tucked away in the huge Tripler complex, the center is known to few people. But the implications of what it does are far-reaching.
"The center is very unique," Burkle said, "in a field that was crying out for coordination."
Another one-of-a-kind agency is the Pacific Disaster Center in Maui, opened in 1996 to put Cold-War military technology to civilian use. The center, also funded by the military, provides information in nanoseconds through the Maui supercomputer to emergency managers in the United States and a number of Asia-Pacific countries.
Modeling outputs and graphic displays allow users to predict weather and responses. The center also provides information on man-made disasters as well as the mitigation and preparation phases of disaster management, such as construction licensing and regulation.
Center spokesman Mont Smith said several Pacific island nations, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines are current users. South Korean officials visited in November.
Smith speculated that international use of the center is "what the future holds" and that the center will become the model for a global disaster information network.
Smith said the only place to come close to what Hawaii offers might be the hurricane center in Miami.
"But here we're talking the whole field of threats."