Hauula Now Ready For Anything, NOAA Says

A Dec. 1 ceremony recognizing Hauula as a StormReady/TsunamiReady community brought together (from left) Mike Cantin of the National Weather Service, Maj. Gen. Darryll Wong of the Hawaii National Guard, Dotty Kelly-Paddock of Hauula Community Association, Burt Greene of the Hauula Emergency Leadership Preparedness Committee, Maria Lutz of American Red Cross-Hawaii and Mel Kaku, director of the city Department of Emergency Management. Photo from Mike Cantin.

After months and years of dedicated work by volunteers, Hauula has joined Kailua as Hawaii’s only towns to earn the distinction of StormReady and TsunamiReady.

National Weather Service officials presented a plaque and signs to community leaders Dec. 1 at the Elaine Chang Foundation property, which is eight acres of land above Kamehameha Highway, certified by NOAA and soon to be approved as a Tsunami Refuge Site by the American Red Cross. Once envisioned as a home for autistic adults, the estate will be the “first and only” shelter to welcome residents of Hauula, Kaaawa and Punaluu during horrific weather conditions.

“They have truly set an example for how concerned citizens can use their time, talents and energy to help everyone be better prepared,” said Mike Cantin, NWS forecaster for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “The efforts of both the Hauula Community Association and Hauula Emergency Leadership Preparedness Committee have been tremendous.”

Burt Greene, area resident and head of the preparedness committee, said the all-out effort was sparked by the realization in 2010 that Hauula would be on its own in an emergency.

“There were no public shelters sites outside of the inundation zone,” explained the retired Army officer. “The highway would likely be closed all along Koolauloa, and we could not completely rely on local government for our safety.”

He sought out State Civil Defense for training, helped develop a planning and evacuation guide (which was mailed to the entire community), and partnered with area churches on higher ground for support as well as permanent storage of emergency supplies.

The list of help in the effort eventually included dozens of volunteers and local agencies, including Hauula Community Association, of which Greene is a board member.

“One of our greatest challenges,” he said at the presentation, “was to gain landowner approval to enter private property for use as refuge sites.” To this purpose, the committee asked Rep. Jessica Wooley to introduce a bill freeing owners from liability (for the public entering their property during declared emergencies).

With some lobbying from Hauula, House Bill 2686 passed and was signed into law last summer, creating a statewide exemption from civil liability for private landowners.

Preparedness is hot stuff indeed, these days. The City Council honored Greene Dec. 5 for his work, and the city was to launch a campaign today (Dec. 12) on emergency preparedness, using the communities of Hauula, Ewa Beach, Kailua and Waianae/Nanakuli as role models for safety and long-range planning.