Monday, October 03, 2005

President’s Letter: October 2005 - Asking for trouble

President's Letter, Larry Geller

Hurricane Katrina is no longer front-page news, but its memory is still fresh. We know from our experience of Iniki which ravaged Kauai and Leeward Oahu that the same can happen here.

The earliest reports from Louisiana revealed that government was failing at every level, and because of these failures, countless lives were lost. Survivors coming from the flooded areas of New Orleans have no homes to return to. Because there was no ounce of prevention, the nation’s treasury is being strained to provide an inadequate cure. People were stranded trying to evacuate New Orleans.

What will happen here? People trapped in the Superdome and the New Orleans convention center experienced filthy and disgusting conditions. What will happen here? Will our glass and tinsel Convention Center even hold up in a storm? Food, water and medicine failed to arrive for days and weeks. Hawaii is a bunch of small islands in middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, far from any rescue services. What will happen here?

At hearings held at the State Capitol September 12 and 13 to assess Hawaii’s preparedness, the response I heard over and over to legislator’s questioning was “it’s a work in progress.”

This is not good enough. We don’t know when the next storm or tsunami will reach our shores. We do know that the people who will suffer most, including the most deaths, will be the elderly, those with special needs such as disabilities or mobility issues, and the poor. Disaster preparedness is interrelated and interwoven with other persistent issues we have failed to solve. For example, there are not enough shelters for the homeless at present, what about in a disaster? Schools were mentioned as storm shelters, but many have louvered windows or other problems that rule them out. And who, other than the principal, has the keys? Highways are near gridlock now, what will happen as a storm approaches?

More personally, do you know what you should do and where you will go in a disaster? What’s the plan? What will your aged friend or relative living on an upper floor in a high rise do without elevators, electricity or water? Also, shouldn’t we be asking, “Why build glass-walled apartment towers in the Kakaako flood plain?” Will the medical school spill toxic biological agents if hit by a storm? What about the proposed Cobalt-60 irradiation facility just off Lagoon Drive at the airport?

Are we simply asking for trouble? The legislature is to conduct further hearings in November. We need to see detailed plans and timetables for their implementation. Contact your state senators and representatives and ask them to insist on plans that will hold water.