guest viewpoint – Hurricane ‘Iniki, a moment of truth

As the Kauai Civil Defense Agency administrator at the time of Hurricane ‘Iniki, I wish to set the record straight as to what the truth was during Hurricane ‘Iniki on Sept. 11, 1992.

A political advertisement submitted by mayoral candidate JoAnn Yukimura made an attempt to set the record straight and accordingly, I submit this article to dispel and tell the real truth. I have no axe to grind; I do not have any animosity toward JoAnn Yukimura. Half-truths and cover-ups were introduced in her political ads and therefore I feel that an explanation is required so that people don’t have the wrong impression as to what went on during that period of ‘Iniki recovery. Those who feel they need to dispute my facts and my truths are invited to come forward with what they feel is the truth and explain their factual story.

Here is mine:

Emergency operations and response plans that were in use in 1992 were written many years before that time. The plan goes through many reviews, simulations and ultimately revisions to ensure that the plan would be usable and workable. There are many reasons for revising plans and no less important is the organizational changes that happen in emergency response entities. On a minimum basis, civil defense conducts yearly emergency response exercises and trainings. Response agencies participate and together we assess our emergency operation and response plan during these many training exercises.

I bring the above matter here because I want to be clear about emergency planning and operational and response actions the Kauai County (Kaua‘i and Ni‘ihau) takes during a major disaster impacting the county.

While the emphasis is on major disasters, we also take lesser disasters seriously and conduct ourselves according to the needs of the disaster.

Shortly after taking office after her election to office as mayor, the Kauai County Council appointed Yukimura, as required by law, to the deputy director of state Civil Defense for Kauai County. This action then is forwarded to the director of state Civil Defense for formal actions in the appointment. This position holds the highest rank in the Civil Defense organization for civil defense in the county. Every decision made during emergency operations is the responsibility of the deputy director of state Civil Defense for Kauai County.

Decisions made, whether they be from the deputy director or by any other committee or individual, the impact is the same, which means that the decision is sanctioned by the highest official of civil defense in the county.

The political ad stated that the lack of communications can be blamed on recovery operations and “the people assumed the worst — that they had been abandoned.” The truth is that our county telecommunications system operated most effectively and did not experience off-the-air glitches. We communicated with government agencies and cooperating agencies throughout the recovery period. Our countywide telecommunications system was further supported and backed by members of the Kauai Amateur Radio Club. In existence for a number of years was a cooperating emergency plan between the KCDA and the Kauai Amateur Radio Club. Crucial communications were handled because the club established a base station at the Emergency Operating Center and various sites around the island. Operators of the Kauai Amateur Radio Clubs operated around the clock providing valuable services during the recovery period. There was no lack of information coming into the EOC from field units.

I would be remiss to not mention the critical telephone facilities around Kaua‘i that the cellular company and HawTel provided free of charge, for the people of Kaua‘i. If I neglected to say thank you to them then, I wish to say it now, after the fact.

The day before Hurricane ‘Iniki made landfall on Kaua‘i, JoAnn Yukimura was on O‘ahu attending functions there. In addition, plans and operations officer for KCDA was on O‘ahu attending a meeting. To bring them back to Kaua‘i at that late evening hour, (no commercial flights operated at that time) I coordinated with the Hawaii Air National Guard for a flight for them, returning them to Kaua‘i. They arrived on Kaua‘i, nearly at midnight of Sept. 10, 1992.

The Army from Schofield Barracks, (25th Division) came to Kaua‘i the day before landfall of ‘Iniki. They were already present at Barking Sands, along with their heavy equipment and supplies. They were ready to assist our recovery efforts. This effort by them was not possible because they were asked to return to O‘ahu.

Delivery of supplies and emergency equipment for the people’s use could have been better coordinated. Since Kekaha has a National Guard Armory, that facility could have been a distribution center for Kekaha and neighboring Waimea Town. When you consider that travel through our highways and roads because of debris and the dangers on the roads, the people of Kekaha and Waimea could have been closer to home to receive their emergency supplies and equipment.

A much-needed power generator was being used at the Kalaheo water well to provide water for that community. However, the power generator was transferred elsewhere on Kaua‘i. If consideration for assignment of a power generator is based on the highest priority initially, then drinking water for the people of Kalaheo and neighboring Lawa‘i are not high priority. Transfer of the power generator to a business facility ranks higher than people’s need for drinking water according to the rationale used by the decision to move the power generator from the Kalaheo water well.

The above information (all of it, not just some) is provided here for your perusal and edification. What I am writing here is not rumors, but facts. I want to set the record straight. There were other information and incidents that happened during the recovery period of Hurricane ‘Iniki, but I wanted to concentrate on misplaced “truths” of the political ad that appeared in The Garden Island newspaper on Sept. 7.

People are most important and government must provide for them. That which people are unable to provide for themselves, government should fill in the gap in what is needed for the people. Local government is the basic provider for Public Safety services and therefore government needs to assure that these services are readily available for our island community. I have subscribed to that philosophy because I firmly believe in it. This had guided me in filling my position in Civil Defense and in the office of the major during my tenure in local government. I made every attempt to follow that basic philosophy whenever I was on the job.

In two major disasters on Kaua‘i, I attempted to do my best. If my best was not good enough, then I must accept these failures. For those who suffered because of my lack of fulfilling my duties and lack of performance, I apologize. However, I cannot accept responsibilities for decisions made in my behalf when I had no authority at the time. I cannot overrule a higher authority than myself.

• Cayetano Sonny Gerardo was the Kauai Civil Defense Agency administrator from 1981 to 1999. He retired in June 1999 and resides in Koloa.

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