By Andrew Walden
With Hurricane Jova and two other major other storms lined up in formation, Oahu Civil Defense planners describe a shortfall of 60,000 spaces in evacuation plans which are themselves designed to shelter only about one-third of Oahu`s population. These numbers sound bad enough, but they grotesquely understate the problem.
- In Oahu District 1, including Waikiki, Hawaii Kai, Downtown, Manoa, and the rest of Honolulu Civil Defense plans show there is only space for 42,544 persons in shelters rated "ready now" -- meaning no repairs or improvements are needed to meet hurricane shelter safety standards.
- Of these 30,000 are located in the Honolulu Convention Center, adjacent to the Ala Wai Canal, just feet above sea level. A recent hurricane preparedness drill conducted on Oahu by State Civil Defense officials projects flooding in the Ala Moana Center. A storm surge could easily send water pouring into the nearby Convention Center as well.
- In District 1, the University of Hawaii, Manoa campus, home to thousands of students in towering dormitories with glass windows, plans labeled "partial" include shelters rated "ready now" for only 403 people.
- In Oahu District 2, including Pearl Harbor, Pearl City, Mililani and Ewa Beach, there are only 3556 shelter spaces considered "ready now." This area is densely populated and home to many of the military personnel who would be expected to be at the center of post-hurricane recovery and rescue efforts. How would these efforts be affected if the military personnel themselves are unable to obtain shelter?
- In Oahu District 5, including windward areas from Kahuku towards Kaneohe, 9364 spaces are available in shelters considered "ready now" -- of these 9152 are located at Brigham Young University, near the shoreline and just feet above sea level. How would this shelter be affected by storm surge?
In addition, about 16,000 Oahu residents are elderly or disabled. Insufficient resources are available for individual evacuations and few shelters are equipped for those with special needs. Many shelters are in public schools notorious for their poor maintenance.
Of the 252,769 shelters on Oahu that are rated "usable with some risk" or better, only 78,698 are rated "usable now" -- including thousands located scant feet above sea level and less than a mile from the shoreline. Those rated "Use with security screens" and "Useable with some risk" include 174,071 shelter spaces that would be exposed to flying debris and airborne missiles as they are only protected by wooden louvers on the windows.
To upgrade the shelters to "usable now" status, planners call for security screens to be installed over the louvers to shield the interior from wind tossed missiles of glass, tin roofing, and wood during a storm.
Another needed improvement is doors reinforced to withstand hurricane-force winds. These measures are modest in cost and would also have the benefit of better protecting the buildings against theft during non-emergency times. Additionally there are 117,569 spaces in shelters considered "Not Ready For Use."
These shelters need improvements such as the replacement of glass louvers with wooden louvers, the installation of security screens over the newly-installed wooden louvers, installation of reinforced doors and proper panic hardware on those doors. With modest expenditures, these buildings could be made useful as hurricane shelters.
The improvements would also add to fire safety and anti-theft security under normal use. Hawaii’s state and county governments are among the most high-tax, spendthrift governmental bodies in America. Somehow in their rush to create make-work jobs for their cronies they have not found money to spend on these simple improvements. Much of the city of New Orleans is situated below sea level, with the Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center -- the big evacuation shelters -- located on the highest ground.
On Oahu much of the island consists of mountain ridges and extinct volcanic cones -- with the evacuation centers located on the lowest ground nearest the shoreline. In a now-infamous July 2005 taped public service announcement -- the month before Katrina struck -- New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin basically said, "You’re on your own if a hurricane strikes."
In the Sept. 18 The Honolulu Advertiser, Ed Teixeira, vice director of state Civil Defense is quoted saying, "We’ve continually tried to avoid using words like, ‘Going to a shelter means you’re safe.’"
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