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No Ka Oi Health

As Hawai’i starts to crawl out from the most widespread “natural disaster” in recent history, the last thing we want to hear is “It’s time to prepare for a disaster!” Alas, hurricane season and pandemic viruses don’t coordinate their social calendar. From June 1 through Nov. 30, the Central Pacific Region is in “hurricane season.” This translates to a chance of hurricane damage and suffering, including storm surge, wind damage, rip currents and flooding. The good news is, by heeding some of the COVID recommendations, you may already have a head start in your hurricane preparations.

As the COVID-19 virus spread through Maui County, the terms “isolation” and “quarantine” became all too familiar. You may recall one of the pandemic safety messages was to keep a two-week supply of food and other essentials available in your home, so that if you got sick, you would not go out into the community and make others sick. Having 14 days’ worth of essentials can also be invaluable in the event of a hurricane, or even a near miss. Damage to infrastructure can put our ability to access food, clean water and other goods in jeopardy.

In addition to damage from strong wind and rain, ocean tidal surges during hurricanes can threaten life and property. In Hawai’i there is no hurricane evacuation zone, but the tidal surge impact zones from tsunamis can be used. Look up the approximate safe areas by doing a web search for Hawai’i Inundation Maps (or find them in your phone book — if you have one of those).

It is tempting to think we can get by with whatever we happened to have on hand, or that “the government” will miraculously be able to provide what everyone needs. The people in our community, including our government officials and their resources, all live on an island that could be damaged, isolated and traumatized.

What makes our islands so special — our remote location in the middle of the Pacific — also makes us vulnerable to hurricanes, and to long-term aftereffects, because our isolation may delay access to provisions. Of the three most recent major hurricanes in Hawaii — Lane in 2018, Iniki in 1992 and Iwa in 1982 — Iniki caused the most destruction and death. According to the 1993 Natural Disaster Survey Report, seven people died from the Hurricane Iniki — three on Kaua’i, three offshore and one on Oahu. Tragic as this was, this relatively low death toll was likely due to well-executed warnings and preparation.

There are several basic things that don’t take very long to do that can really help you be prepared:

• Make an emergency plan: How do you contact your family if you get separated? Decide on accessible meeting points in case you get separated and cellphone service is not available.

• Make a kit: Create a to-go bin of what you and your family need to be self-sufficient for 14 days. In addition to those canned goods and water, don’t forget cash and important documents including immunization records. Pet supplies, face masks and medications are also a must.

• Stay informed: Sign up for weather and other alerts at the Maui County emergency alert page (look for Maka’ala or Everbridge access).

With the pandemic still looming, there may be reluctance to enter a hurricane shelter, so it is more important than ever to secure your living location if you stay during the storm. Take the option to go to a shelter if you do not feel you would be safe at home or evacuations are announced. Be prepared to socially distance and wear your face mask (add hurricane preparedness to the list of reasons to get your COVID-19 vaccination).

For more hurricane information, the National Weather Service, American Red Cross, Ready.gov and others have excellent information online, as do local sources such as Hawaiian Electric, which has a great downloadable kids’ booklet, the Hawaii Department of Defense and the Hawaii Department of Health (add “hurricane preparedness” to any online search).

Start your summer off by doing your preparations. Not only will this help decrease COVID-laced anxiety over thoughts of more disasters, you can potentially save a life.

For current advisories and preparedness tips, visit health.hawaii.gov/prepare/advisories/hurricane-season/#situation.

* Bridget Kaumeheiwa Velasco is a planner with the Office of Public Health Preparedness at the Maui District Health Office. No Ka Oi Health is published monthly by the state Department of Health.

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