On Wednesday, Feb. 22, the Kula Community Association (KCA) hosted a public meeting on disaster preparedness for Maui at the Kula Community Center. Approximately 100 Upcountry residents attended and were given the opportunity to pose questions to a panel of experts regarding three possible disaster scenarios.
In the first of the hypothetical disaster scenarios, a major tsunami from Alaska has inundated Maui's North Shore coast, causing 20,000 residents from low-lying areas to evacuate Upcountry for an undetermined amount of time. The tsunami waters have severely damaged major down-country supermarkets.
Scenario two described a wildfire started by a discarded cigarette butt that ignited one mile below Kula on a school day. The fire is being blown uphill, where there are no fire truck access roads and no sizable water supply.
Approximately 100 Upcountry residents attended a recent Kula Community Association meeting and were given the opportunity to pose questions to a panel of experts regarding three possible disaster scenarios.
Photo: Dick Mayer
Disaster scenario three is a major Kona storm that stalls over Maui, cutting off electricity for a full week, blowing trees down over roadways and isolating many in their homes--particularly the elderly and disabled.
KCA Chairman Dick Mayer introduced the panel of experts present to take questions and provide information. The group included representatives of the Maui Civil Defense Agency, Pacific Disaster Center, Maui County Council on Aging, Maui Fire Department, American Red Cross, Maui Police Department, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD), and the principal of King Kekaulike High School, which is one of the major Upcountry evacuation centers.
Anna Foust, emergency management officer of the Maui Civil Defense Agency, spoke first about water availability during an emergency such as a tsunami. Because the water pumping equipment for the island lies in the flood zone, it could easily be damaged beyond repair if left on. "It will likely be the case in the future that water will be turned off in the event of a tsunami or similar disaster," she said.
Foust recommended that citizens stay up to date on weather and disaster predictions, and start storing water at the first word of an emergency event. The official recommendation is to store at least one gallon of water per day per person. Half would be used for cooking and consumption, and half for sanitation.
When asked where citizens should turn for the best information during an impending disaster, Foust said that radio station 550 AM is the primary emergency alert partner of the Civil Defense Agency, and should have the most up-to-date and complete information.
In the event of a tsunami, "The best thing you folks can do is stay home and stay off the road," Foust told Upcountry residents. "As long as you are out of the inundation zone, that is the number one priority. It might be uncomfortable or inconvenient, but it's a disaster, and the main concern is the safety of our citizens."
Foust and others stressed repeatedly that the most important thing Maui residents can do to be prepared is have an in-home emergency survival kit, and a "go kit" of essentials ready to bring with them in the case of an evacuation. Ideally, she said, all people coming into shelters should be able to feed and care for themselves for at least three days. This means bringing food and water for the entire family, pet food (pets are allowed in evacuation centers), prescription medications, first-aid supplies, bedding and clothing.
Tips on what to stock in emergency kits can be found by clicking on "Disaster Preparedness" on Maui County's Civil Defense Agency Website (www.co.maui.hi.us/index.aspx?nid=70).
Maui County Executive on Aging Deborah Arendale urged communities to take responsibility for assisting their elderly or disabled neighbors in times of emergency. "Many seniors can't carry adequate supplies of food and water for themselves," she said.
Arendale stressed the importance of knowing your neighbors and having a community plan. "Create connections now that will matter a whole lot later," she said. "If we haven't prepared before a disaster, it's already too late--especially for seniors."
Regarding fires, Kelan Pua'a of the Maui Fire Department emphasized the importance of keeping "defensible space" around homes. This means having "a circumference clear of brush, wood or flammable materials around your home. We recommend trying to have 100 feet of defensible space around your home," said Pua'a.
He agreed with the school's recommendation that it's sometimes best for students to stay in the school building during a disaster. "Schools frequently are made of fire-resistance material and have lots of defensible space," he said. "Sometimes sheltering in place is a better option than evacuation."
Other recommendations included carrying a backup cell phone battery or car charger in the case of a power outage. However, cell service is not likely to be available in all emergencies, Joe Kentz of Maui Electric Company said, so also have a plan that doesn't require cell phones, including a predetermined rendezvous location for your family.
Kentz also recommended keeping your car at least half full of gas at all times. "Long lines at gas stations can easily block traffic, cause panic and slow down an evacuation effort," he said.
The most important take-home message from this meeting was "Have a plan!" While thinking about these terrible scenarios isn't enjoyable, Kula attendees said they were willing to take on the responsibility of preparing for a disaster on Maui in order to prepare for the worst.