Isles have
‘head start’

Officials say disasters have helped
prepare Hawaii response teams

Anti-war protest draws hundreds

By Helen Altonn

Hawaii is in better shape than many states to deal with the effects of terrorism or war because of its experiences with disasters the past 10 years.

Yet the state is vulnerable because of its isolation and a lot more must be done.

These were among points highlighted by military, state and city officials yesterday at the fifth meeting of the Committee on War Preparedness convened by the state House.

"We're always prepared for hurricanes and tidal waves, and people kind of know what to do, but there is a lot more to do," said Honolulu Fire Chief Attilio Leonardi.

He explained Honolulu has "a huge head start on terrorism" because a federal grant after the 1995 Oklahoma federal building bombing has helped the city to train its personnel and acquire equipment.

Leonardi and Robin McCulloch, chief of city-county emergency medical services, said cooperative agreements among federal, state and community agencies also have enhanced capabilities to deal with disasters.

A Hawaii Emergency Preparedness Executive Committee formed six years ago by former state Adjutant General Edward Richardson was a big step forward, Leonardi said.

Brig. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, current adjutant general and a War Preparedness Committee member, said mainland evaluators who watched a Hawaii bioterrorism exercise last week said first responders on the mainland aren't as well trained or work as well together.

Democrat Rep. Sylvia Luke (Pacific Heights-Punchbowl), committee chair, said she feels Hawaii is fairly well prepared, based on reports from emergency agencies at the five committee meetings.

McCulloch said the city has increased environmental protection with federal funding since 1997, acquiring portable devices to collect air samples and do field testing for about half a dozen agents. It has about 4,000 antidote injections for chemicals, he said. Continuous environmental monitoring for pathogens also is beginning at five sites, he said, with samples tested for agents in an environmental DNA lab.

Unlike the mainland, where hundreds of fire trucks and ambulances can be pulled together for emergencies, Hawaii is on its own and must be self-sufficient, officials said.

A statewide training facility and more ambulances are needed, they said. The 16 ambulances on Oahu are handling 60,000 cases a year and are "hard pressed day to day," McCulloch said.

Preparing hospitals for a mass-casualty incident is another issue, McCulloch said. The Department of Health has received $8.2 million to help hospitals handle patients in a catastrophe. Federal officials also have a plan to move patients to the mainland if necessary, he said.

At yesterday's meeting, military officials described partnerships with communities, state, city and federal agencies to support dependents of deployed servicemen and prepare schools on military bases for any disaster.

Military leaders asked the state for help to keep young military families here who might otherwise return to the mainland if their family members have long deployments.

They suggested possible airline or hotel discounts or other economic incentives to bring mainland families here to be with military dependents.

Col. Thomas Gibbons, manpower, personnel and administration director for the Pacific Command and Board of Education military member, said communications are critical.

"If the public doesn't know what we're doing, it's all for naught ... We should expand and market the good programs we have and do special things for our soldiers and families."

Col. Dick Roten, deputy commander, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, said it's important for military children to know Americans recognize and appreciate their parents' contribution and sacrifice for their country.

E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --