Port of Call
A Place at the Table - Disaster Preparedness in Rural Hawaii, Jul 20, 2014
Doug Mayne, Vice Director of Civil Defense for the State of Hawaii, gives an overview of the islands' emergency response system
According to M. Kalani Souza, there is a 'sense of impending doom' in Hawaii: the chain of islands is long overdue for a hurricane. Much like Japan, Hawaii is a high-risk area for hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes; in its perilously remote location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the Rainbow State needs to be especially well prepared for such disasters. Kalani is Community Outreach Specialist at the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center (NDPTC), which develops and delivers training and educational programmes related to homeland security and disaster management. He is currently working with 25 different communities across Hawaii, as well as another hundred or so throughout the rest of the United States. Although he also works in urban areas, Kalani's particular interest is in native indigenous communities and rural, isolated communities, "because that's where the need is greatest and people have the least".

Peace Boat has been assisting disaster affected communities and implementing disaster risk reduction programs in Japan and around the world since 1995. Most recently, Peace Boat has entered a partnership with the United Nations office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR),United Nations office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) becoming an official campaign partner for the "Making Cities Resilient: My City is Getting Ready!" Making Cities Resilient: My City is Getting Ready! global campaign. Peace Boat and UNISDR are working closely together to enhance community resilience and encourage local governments to make their cities better prepared for disasters. During the 84th voyage's call at Honolulu, Hawaii, one in-port programme focused on disaster management. Kalani took participants to the NDPTC's offices in Honolulu and to the North Shore of Oahu Island, to see how the NDPTC's policies have been put into practice. The programme happened to take place the day after a major storm, allowing us to witness first-hand the impacts of flash flooding and minor landslides on the islands' more isolated roads.

The group visits a beach on the North Shore of Oahu Island to learn about the measures being put in place
Traditionally disaster management has been left to the experts, but research has shown that in a natural disaster, the emergency services are just as compromised by the hurricane or earthquake as everyone else. Moreover, governments also tend to prioritize cities when deciding where to send help, partly because that is where the largest number of votes and tourism infrastructure tend to lie. This means that in Hawaii, rural areas often don't see any emergency services until after the crucial 36 hours following a disaster - the time period when the number of casualties is highest. In the more remote parts of the island, it can be as long as seven or eight days before help arrives; so the first responder is much more likely to be your next-door neighbour than a paramedic or fireman. Realistically, the communities that Kalani works with need to be able to care for themselves for at least a week after a disaster. This led the Center to the conclusion that, for the immediate response to disasters in the area to be as effective as possible, power needs to be shifted away from government; as Kalani puts it, "Our idea is that if you put money and resources in the hands of the community and give them training, they might be able to respond within the first few hours and we may be able to reduce the number of casualties."

Peace Boat's partner Kalani and another community member play a Hawaiian song
Another finding by the NDPTC is that, as a tool for emergency preparedness, community works far better than fear: "Research has shown that only around eight per cent of the human race can stay in the fight-flight response for longer than ten or fifteen minutes; most humans cannot maintain that amount of adrenaline. One of the problems is that the eight per cent who can maintain it tend to work in emergency response, and they set the policy for everyone else. So whenever you speak to the emergency management community, they are constantly warning you, 'You have to be prepared all the time, you can't let your guard down! You've got to be worried!' But communities cannot stay fearful all the time, not without grave consequences for the community itself."

The NDPTC set about finding new ways to engage the community in disaster preparedness, and developed an innovative approach: "We realized that community members rarely go to government trainings, but everyone comes to a party. So we decided to start just throwing parties, because at parties we can talk about all the same things - the need for food, the need for emergency medicine supplies - but we don't have to do it from the fear position, we can do it from the position of wanting to take care of our elders, wanting to take care of our children. So we are putting the focus on everyday preparation rather than "There's a big old scary event that's going to come and destroy us all', and we find that works much more effectively than trying to keep the community in a state of fear."

Participants learn about the NDPTC's past projects
Involving the community in all aspects of disaster preparedness also makes for sturdier, more comprehensive emergency plans: "There are so many dimensions to community readiness, it can't possibly be done most effectively by a core of professionals based in the city. For instance, if you involve the whole community in planning evacuation routes, you will have much stronger routes, because you are combining the knowledge of many people with different backgrounds, and they know their area better than the city government does. If you want to know the best way to evacuate, find a sixteen year old boy - he's probably found all the short cuts just to get home in time when he's stayed out too late".

A participant enjoys an edible plant grown by the Hau'ula community as part of their resiliency plan
Having heard about the NDPTC's work and ideas in theory, the group made the trip across the island to see the Center's impact in practice: we visited the Hau'ula community, which was rated one of the most 'at-risk' communities in the NDPTC's civil defence report five years ago. Tsunamis, hurricanes, flooding and earthquakes periodically affect the area and often isolate it, since the only road connecting it to the rest of the island can quickly become unusable during a disaster. Following the report, the NDPTC ran a series of workshops at the Hau'ula Community Association, in which residents were taught about disaster preparedness. The community then began organizing itself and implementing some of the policies suggested by NDPTC; today Hau'ula has emergency water and medicine supplies, and is growing enough fruit to subsist on for a least a fortnight. They have won two national awards and are now recognized as one of the most resilient communities in the state.

Community participation and capacity building of local stakeholder groups is a crucial part of the "Making Cities Resilient" campaign. The community is also at the very core of Peace Boat Disaster Relief Volunteer Center's (PBV) activities; educating, engaging and empowering ordinary citizens to respond effectively to disasters can be one of the most effective ways to minimize the human, economic and environmental losses incurred as a result of weather events. PBV's International Coordinator, Robin Lewis, was in Hawaii at the time of Peace Boat's visit to work with our partners there.

"When it comes to disaster resilience, we believe wholeheartedly in the power of relationships. In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the response from the international community, including the USA, was truly humbling. This tour enabled us to build ties with diverse groups working in disaster risk reduction in Hawaii, a chain of islands that faces very similar natural hazards to Japan. Going onward, we plan to strengthen our relationships with communities, people and hope to share best practices, knowledge and networks; this kind of cooperation can really help us on both sides of the Pacific to be better prepared to respond to future disasters."

Participants learn a traditional Hawaiian song
Over a delicious lunch of locally grown papayas, tomatoes and taro, we heard from residents how this new approach to disaster preparedness has had other knock-on effects on the area: they spoke of how it had fostered a greater sense of community cohesion and self-sufficiency, as well as improving sustainability. Kalani summed up the ethos of community involvement: "We have an old saying in Hawaii: 'If you're not at the table, then you're on the menu.' We need to make sure that Hawaii's smaller, more remote communities have a place at the table and are part of the conversations about disaster preparedness." Or as another Hawaiian saying goes: ?Nobody is in charge; everybody is in charge'.

As part of Peace Boat's partnership in the UNISDR's ?Resilient Cities' campaign, a group of international students will be onboard from Acajutla to Panama, in order to discuss and learn about ways that we can prepare for natural disasters. Click here for more information.