Lingle signs more bills to boost state’s disaster preparedness

HONOLULU — Gov. Linda Lingle signed bills Monday that will improve Hawai‘i’s ability to prepare for natural and manmade disasters.

“These three new laws strengthen our ability to save lives and protect property in the event of an emergency,” Lingle states in a press release last week.

“The measures provide funds that will enable us to prepare for and promptly respond to disasters, and ensure civil defense workers and property are protected during emergencies,” she says. “Our Administration worked closely with the Legislature and civil defense agencies to make these initiatives a priority to protect our community.”

The three bills are aimed to mitigate existing hazards to minimize the potential impact of a disaster, enhance preparedness and accelerate response and recovery.

Act 115 of Senate Bill 2214 raises the Major Disaster Fund from $1 million to $2 million and appropriates $9 million for emergency readiness, the release states. The bill includes $4.5 million from the interest accrued on the hurricane reserve trust fund to be used as follows:

• $1 million to purchase early warning systems, such as sirens;

• $250,000 for public education on preparedness;

• $2 million to retrofit homes and buildings against high wind damage;

• $250,000 to update tsunami inundation and evacuation maps;

• $1 million to establish and maintain supplies for emergency shelters.

The other $4.5 million will be used as follows:

• $500,000 from the state’s general fund to maintain 24-hour operations at the Civil Defense Operations Center;

• $2 million in general funds to the Red Cross to assist residents when a disaster has been declared;

• $2 million in general funds to Queen’s Medical Center for an emergency backup electrical system.

Act 116 of House Bill 2343 increases criminal penalties for crimes committed during a state civil defense emergency to deter looting and protect first responders, the release states. Crimes against law enforcement officials, active duty military, National Guard and civil defense personnel carrying out their duties during an emergency will be a class B felony, punishable with fines of up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 10 years. Burglary of a residence during a civil defense emergency will now be a class A felony, punishable with fines of up to $50,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 20 years. The burglary of a nonresident building or criminal property damage of $300 or more will be a class B felony.

The protection extends to Hawai‘i’s second citizens as well.

“Pets will also be accommodated in designated shelters,” Lingle says.

Act 117 of House Bill 3121 requires the state to provide suitable shelters for pets in the event of a disaster, the release states. The bill also requires the director of civil defense to identify suitable public shelter locations and private pet shelters.

The signing, which coincided with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Central Pacific Hurricane Center’s official 2006 hurricane season forecast, was the latest effort by the Lingle administration to beef up Hawai‘i’s preparedness.

Earlier this month, Lingle signed House Bill 2442, which allows Hawai‘i to join the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, permitting the Governor to call upon the resources of other states. Hawai‘i was the last state in the nation to join the compact.

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