Wednesday
Oct282009

Keeping our island safe in emergencies

The recent natural disasters in Samoa, the Philippines and elsewhere in the Asia Pacific region have brought us closer together and reminded us, once again, of the need to be prepared for emergencies. I deeply appreciate the generosity and eagerness of so many to help our neighbors. 

We must not forget that we, in Hawaii, are also vulnerable to tsunamis, and that we need to be ready. Makai portions of East Oahu neighborhoods such as Portlock, Hawaii Kai, Kahala and Waikiki are among those that could be especially at risk. Following is some very important information from our Department of Emergency Management that everyone should be aware of.

Tsunamis can happen any time.

Unlike hurricanes, there is NO tsunami season. Tsunamis are a year-round, 24-hour-a-day threat and a constant hazard to all shoreline areas of our islands.  

Tsunamis have been responsible for more deaths in the Hawaiian Islands than any other natural disaster. More than 220 residents have lost their lives (including six on Oahu in 1946) due to tsunamis in the past 63 years. Destructive tsunamis have affected our islands in the past and will do so again.

Take the time now to educate yourself on tsunami and tsunami hazards. Talk to your family and friends now. Develop a disaster plan and be prepared should a future tsunami event threaten our islands.

The Samoa tsunami came ashore very quickly following the earthquake. Could the same thing happen here?

Possibly. The Samoa event was unprecedented and referred to as a locally generated tsunami. Historically, there is no evidence of similar tsunamis striking any islands in Hawaii other than the Big Island. However, it is possible. For example, large magnitude earthquakes just north of the Big Island or off the Kona Coast could generate tsunamis that reach Oahu’s shores in less than 30 minutes.

If a large earthquake is felt on Oahu, the evacuation strategy calls for those in coastal evacuation zones to immediately move inland to high ground. There will be little time to activate conventional warnings, such as sounding our Outdoor Siren Warning System and issuing Emergency Alert System Broadcasts. Early reports seem to indicate that immediate self-evacuation following the earthquake saved many lives in Samoa.

What are evacuation zones?

Evacuation zones are shown in the white pages of the telephone directory and at www.oahuDEM.org to delineate the extent of coastal tsunami inundation, with a buffer added for public safety. If you’re in an evacuation zone when a Tsunami Warning is declared, you must evacuate and leave the area immediately. If you’re out of a zone, stay put. Stay off the road because roads and highways must be open for emergency responders. Don’t use the phone unless it’s for an emergency; rely on TV and radio instead.

My child’s school is in the evacuation zone, what should I do?

All public schools in the tsunami evacuation zones are required by law to have an evacuation plan. The eight such schools on Oahu would, upon a distant Tsunami Warning, evacuate at the first siren sounding, at least three hours before wave arrival time.

All students, teachers, and staff walk to pre-designated safe areas where students remain until deemed safe for return to campus or home. The largest schools on Oahu can move their students to safety in 20 minutes. Schools are required to exercise their plans annually.

Whether or not parents can pick up their children is dependent on the evacuation at the time. If road blocks by HPD are posted, no one goes into an evacuation area except first-responders. Parents should know that their children will be taken to a safe area where they will be cared for by school officials until such time that they can be safely picked up, which could be several hours later if there’s an actual tsunami. Many private schools have similar plans in place and we recommend that parents contact their schools and inquire about emergency plans.