Viewpoint: Mauians need to be prepared for disaster

As a child, I lived for several years in a place called Wake Island, which wasn’t really an island – it was actually a V-shaped atoll with a coastline of about 12 miles. My father had taken a job there as an electrician for the Federal Aviation Administration, and I spent my youth fishing in the lagoon and running around looking for adventures.

I have fond memories of that place, but there was always a danger that the entire island could have been wiped out with one strong hurricane or tropical storm, as its highest point was only 20 feet above sea level. For that reason every building was built to withstand hurricanes and every door and window reinforced with hurricane shutters.

This level of preparedness was finally put to the test in 2006 when Wake Island was hit by Super Typhoon Ioke, a record-breaking monster that grew into a Category 5 hurricane and forced the evacuation of all 188 residents. As the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Central Pacific, it damaged 70 percent of the island. The island community is up and running again, but only because it was prepared.

Are we?

June marks the beginning of the Central Pacific hurricane season, which officially runs through November. While no one can stop a hurricane from occurring, there are a few things that we as a community can do in order to minimize the impacts and to be more resilient. As an island community, it is especially critical that we prepare ourselves with the resources to sustain us through a catastrophic event that could potentially isolate us from outside resources for even a short period of time.

Be informed: Learn about hurricanes, which not only bring winds in excess of 74 mph but also battering storm surge and torrential rains. This triple threat may interrupt our infrastructure, utilities and supply chain. Know how and when to shut off your utilities. Register to receive notifications from Civil Defense. Invest in a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio. Being informed may prevent injuries and save lives when seconds count.

Make a plan: This plan should outline where you and your family will seek shelter – in your own home, in the home of family or friends or in a public shelter. Have a communication plan that includes emergency contact information and, when possible, use texting instead of calling. Keep a current list of medications you take. Have your financial and insurance information available. Knowing what to do ahead of time will allow you to remain calm and reduce the need to make decisions under stress.

Build a kit: Assume that power and running water will not be available and it will take some time to clear roadways and open up the airports and harbors. Everyone should have enough water and nonperishable food to last for at least seven days. Your kit should also contain medications, hygiene items, a radio, a flashlight, change of clothes and bedding. Hurricane evacuation shelters will not have any provisions, so if you evacuate to a public shelter, bring your kit. Building a kit will ensure that you and your family have the provisions you need in the immediate aftermath of a storm, before outside help arrives.

Get involved: Assist your neighbors. Get trained in disaster response, CPR and first aid. Volunteer: There are many organizations that can use a variety of skills before, during and after a hurricane. Be part of your Community Emergency Response Team. Volunteer with the Red Cross, Maui County Health Volunteers or the Maui Humane Society. Getting involved spreads the circle of preparedness outward, increasing our community resilience.

Recent events such as the Oklahoma tornadoes illustrate the damage and destruction that natural disasters can bring at any time and remind us that the steps taken to prepare for hurricanes will translate to other events as well.

Disaster can strike at any time, so now is the time to plan – not when disaster is already at hand. It’s a lesson that any Wake Island resident knows only too well.

* Alan Arakawa is the mayor of Maui County.