Preparing for natural
disasters begins at home


State lawmakers have concluded two days of briefings about how well Hawaii is prepared for disasters.

IF the destructive force of Hurricane Katrina isn't enough of a cautionary signal for Hawaii, fresh images of Ophelia lashing the Carolina coasts underscore the need to strengthen the state's preparation for disaster.

In addition, the grisly discovery of the bodies of 34 people who died when floodwaters engulfed a New Orleans-area nursing home and the plight of thousands of others who were simply unable to evacuate on their own show how authorities must find ways to assist the most vulnerable.

The human misery caused by the recent storms on the mainland is a reminder that though government agencies have mapped out emergency plans, Hawaii residents should be ready to take care of themselves, too.

Prompted by the devastation of the New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region, state lawmakers this week questioned Civil Defense, the weather service and other agencies, seeking to get a handle on where Hawaii stands in preparedness.

Despite earlier assurances from Civil Defense and other officials, the briefings revealed a statewide shortage of shelter space and emergency supplies, and no clear-cut plans to take care of the disabled and elderly.

Though 18,000 shelter spaces have been added in the past year, the state is still short about 100,000 of the 462,000 spaces its strategy calls for, and to retrofit more shelters, it will need to spend $35 million.

Preparations also are largely focused on Oahu since it is the state's population and economic center. Even so, support for the neighbor islands and rural communities should be elevated.

The good news is that federal, state and county officials appear to have established clear lines of authority if there is an emergency, and should be able to avoid the muddled command structure that hampered operations in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Hawaii has seen numerous storms and hurricanes of varying magnitudes through the years, the most destructive in 1992 when Hurricane Iniki ripped through Kauai. Since then, Hawaii has been fortunate in escaping disasters save for localized events, such as recent floods in Manoa, Hilo and Mapunapuna.

Because of this, people might have become complacent. If any good is to come from Katrina, it will be to prod residents to think ahead.

Households should have basic survival gear, including enough food, water and clothing for each member, prescription medicines and first aid kits, radios, batteries, matches, blankets and other equipment. Families should plan where they will go in an evacuation; parents should talk to officials at their children's schools to avoid confusion and worry.

Preparing for an emergency begins with each individual.

Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes
the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek
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