LIHUE — Kauai residents with their eyes on the horizon for a hurricane are reasonably prepared, but fall short on complying with new state guidelines for the amount of nonperishable food and water they should have on hand.
Those are among the conclusions of a new Hawaii Department of Health survey scheduled for release Monday. The results suggest that memories of Hurricane Iniki may have dimmed a little too much after 26 intervening years without a major hurricane.
But April’s storm and flood disaster were the ultimate wake-up call to stay prepared at all times.
Shortfalls of food and water supplies reflect apparent lack of familiarity with revised state preparedness guidelines, issued last year, that doubled the recommended amount of nonperishable food and drinking water households need.
The new report is based on an island-wide, door-to-door canvas conducted over the weekend of July 27-29. Nearly 200 households were interviewed using U.S. Census tract information to create a statistically valid profile of the entire county, according to Lauren Guest, public health preparedness planner for the DOH office in Lihue. Guest developed the survey and oversaw the intricate process of gathering and analyzing the data.
“We’re encouraged by data indicating that 99 percent of Kauai residents feel that having emergency supplies on hand is either very or somewhat important for disaster preparedness,” said Elton Ushio, director of the County of Kauai Emergency Management Agency.
“Nearly 80 percent of households having an emergency supply kit is a good baseline as well. However, we remind the public of current recommendations that households maintain at least a 14-day supply of non-perishable food and drinking water for each family member. When it comes to emergency preparedness, you can’t do too much.”
Hurricane preparedness is not just an issue important to residents, Ushio said. Tourists, too, can be caught up in the aftermath of a major disaster — as some were in the April flooding.
Since Hurricane Iniki in 1992, he said, “significant increases to the county’s and our state’s population and our visitor numbers translate to greater challenges, should the commodity supply chain and/or utility infrastructure be impacted or disrupted.”
The survey used methodology originally developed by the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in which standardized questions are chosen for individual local surveys to assess local needs. The methodology provides formulas for analyzing Census data to ensure that each survey is a statistical reflection of its community.
It’s called the “CASPER” methodology, an acronym for “Community Assessment for Public Health Emergency Response.”
The state guidelines on food and water rewrote those that had existed for many years, initially setting a three-day supply as the minimum each household should have on hand. Later, the amount was increased to seven days’ worth.
On Kauai, nearly 74 percent of homes have enough drinking water for three days and more than 41 percent have enough for seven days. Water needs are predicated on one gallon per day for each family member.
Volunteer survey teams found that more than 91 percent of households have enough canned and other nonperishable food for three days and more than 72 percent have enough for seven days.
But the proportions dropped markedly when it came to whether residents could go 14 days without replenishing water and food. Nearly 77 percent failed to meet the standard for water and nearly 55 percent fell short on food.
“The thing that is the most glaring gap to me is the lack of a 14-day supply of water,” Guest said. “We think we need food more than water.”
In reality, she said, both the food and water objectives are critical. Emergency water purification systems may partly blunt the effect of inadequate water reserves, but water is essential to even basic life.
“If you look at the percentage of households who had heard about the new guidelines, it’s not as high as you might think,” she said. “Clearly, we need to do more (in terms of public education.) I don’t think there is any magic in 14 days.”
In fact, she said, the standard reflects the minimum quantities residents should have on hand.
“In some ways, we’re doing well — probably better than I would have guessed,” she said. “Some of the more important (issues of concern) are water and the amount of prescription medications each household has on hand.”
The study also found that:
w 47 percent of Kauai households include at least one member with a chronic health condition, such as hypertension, heart disease, asthma and diabetes.
w 16 percent of homes included residents who require one or more types of special care, including oxygen, wheelchairs, walkers and medications that must be refrigerated. Nearly equal majorities — 58.3 percent and 64.3 percent — had seven- and 14-days supplies of critical medicines.
w Only 19.5 percent of households had complete plans for communicating or reuniting after a disaster. There are four ingredients in such a plan: having an emergency communication plan that includes contact information for off-island family and friends; designating a meeting place close to the home; choosing a post-hurricane meeting place away from the neighborhood in case return is not possible, and having copies of critical documents in a waterproof, safe location.
w Large majorities — 70 percent to 87 percent — of island households have an emergency supply kit, first aid kit, smoke detectors or fire extinguishers, but more than two-thirds lack an emergency generator.
w Asked what barriers prevented them from having a household emergency kit, 43.9 percent said “nothing” was keeping them from assembling it. Nearly a quarter said they lacked the items for financial reasons or because of lack of storage space.
Guest offered some common-sense advice: “Every time you go to the store, buy one more item for your emergency kit,” she urged.
The survey also tried to assess whether Kauai residents had ongoing emotional distress from either the April storm/flood event here or the ongoing volcanic eruption on Hawaii Island.
More than 9 percent of households reported undergoing mental health issues related to one or both disasters. Encouragingly, more than 67 percent said they knew where to get help if they need it.
Reflecting the breadth of the storm’s emotional damage to the community, 10.4 percent of households reported being directly affected by the floods, while 88.9 percent said they had not had direct experience with the disasters.
Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident.