Saturday, September 03, 2005

President's Letter: September 2005 - If (When) Disaster Strikes Hawaii

President's Letter, Larry Geller

Breakfast table conversation at our place this morning: "Honey, if the tsunami sirens started sounding right now, are we ready for a disaster?" Response: "No."

We do have toilet paper, but we have no food or water put away, and while I know there are batteries, a flashlight and a portable radio around here someplace, I'd have to go digging to find them. By that time, we'd be looking at water rising outside the windows.

Moving from the personal, is Hawai`i ready for a disaster? How do we know? How do we check? Have we been given emergency directions recently on what to do? Sure, there's some stuff in the phone books, but these days, not everyone has a phone book and who reads them anyway.

On a Federal level, it's clear that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has let New Orleans and the Southern states down big time. It may be relevant that (according to the Boston Herald, September 3) "The federal official in charge of the bungled New Orleans rescue was fired from his last private-sector job overseeing horse shows." It appears that Mike Brown got his job, according to the report, because he was a leading GOP activist. He had no specific experience that would qualify him to head up FEMA.

We need to know who is in charge in Hawai`i and why we are not hearing regularly about disaster planning, including both what we need to do as individuals and what the state is doing. What will happen when power fails at hospitals, nursing homes, police stations and other facilities?

There are many significant questions to be answered, only a few of which have even been asked. For example, Senator Gordon Trimble has repeatedly questioned the wisdom of locating a biochemical laboratory facility in the Kaka'ako Peninsula, yet it is there, and we have no idea of the risk it poses in the event that a tsunami or powerful storm releases its biological toxins into the environment.

If there is any benefit to the tragedy still unfolding in New Orleans, let it be that it goads us into considering and improving our own preparedness.