The Civil Defense sirens are screaming, the shrill tones rising and falling, slicing the darkness as Hawai`i residents await the arrival of tonight’s tsunami. As they cease their wail, a police siren begins its own shriek.
Gazing seaward, toward the coastal town of Hilo, only a few lights remain on, punctuated by the blue sparkle of the police cruisers.
Flights to Maui are cancelled. Phone callers are telling news stations that the sea is growing rough.
This is not new for islanders. Long-time residents who have been through tsunami before take natural disasters in stride. As the most isolated population center in the world, self-reliance is treasured. In the event of a tsunami or hurricane, harbors and airfields may be damaged, so even if help were sent, it might not be able to reach the islands immediately.
The American Red Cross and other agencies recommend a three-point strategy to be ready for hurricanes, tsunami, and other emergent situations:
- Make a kit
- Make a plan
- Be informed
First, make a kit — Emergency kits can be purchased, and that is a good way to start, but you will still need to customize the kit to suit the needs of yourself and your `ohana. The kit should include:
* Emergency medications
* Nonperishable food
* A manual can opener
* One gallon of bottled water, per person, per day
* A battery or crank-powered radio
* At least one flashlight and extra batteries
* Bedding – if you camp, just grab your camp kit
* Copies of important documents
* A first-aid kit
* A basic household tools
* Any needed special items for infants, pets and elderly or disabled family members.
Everything can be put into large plastic storage bins which can later be used for water catchment and storage in the event that municipal water supplies are cut off.
Second, make a plan — Meet with all family members to design an emergency plan of action to prepare and respond to emergencies that are most likely to happen at home, school or work. Identify responsibilities for each member of the household and plan to work together as a team. Include in this:
* A family communications plan is also necessary. Each household member should know how to reconnect with the family. Establish a central, secondary, and tertiary connection point. Be sure to also make advance preparations for any pets or people with special health needs.
* An evacuation plan. Identifies two places to go if told to evacuate, one within the neighborhood and one outside the neighborhood. These can be another family member’s home, a friend’s home, a Civil Defense shelter – but all family members need to know where they are and how to reach them.
* Store all emergency information on a card that can fit into a wallet. The card should contain each household member’s work, school and cell phone numbers. In addition, this card should contain the two meeting places and a contact number for someone out of the state.
* An out-of-state contact may be needed if local phone lines are overloaded or out of service during an emergency. Sometimes, sending a text message or calling long distance to this central contact person may be accomplished easier during an emergency.
Third, be informed — Get a good map and be familiar with your community’s inundation zones. these include flood zones for rivers and streams as well as tsunami zones. Waters can rise extremely high extremely fast during a hurricane. Listen to local media or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration broadcasts for the latest storm conditions. If advised to evacuate, do so immediately and remember to bring the emergency kit. Keep listening to the radio for Civil Defense announcements that state which shelters are open.
If anyone relocates after a major disaster and has not been able to reconnect with family, he or she can register at www.redcross.org or call 866-GET-INFO (866-438-4636) to register on the “Safe and Well” website, which informs family and friends of whereabouts and reconnection plans.
For more information about hurricane preparedness, contact the Hawaii Chapter of the American Red Cross at 808-739-8114, or visit www.hawaiiredcross.org.