Emergency shelters due for upgrades

LIHUE — The Kalaheo Neighborhood Center gym could become Kauai’s newest emergency shelter. That’s if the County Council approves a $650,000 project Wednesday to update the building.

Also slated for upgrades is the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall.

Funds of $450,000 are designated for the Kalaheo gym, while $200,000 is designated for the hall.

If approved by the council, accounts would be set up and procurement work would begin soon after, said Elton Ushio, administrator for the Kauai Emergency Management Agency.

“Project completion is contingent upon many factors, so it’s safest to say that work will need to be completed prior to Jan. 1, 2020, when the funding lapses,” Ushio said.

There are currently 15 shelters for people to evacuate to in case of an emergency. On Kauai, islandwide shelter capacity is approximately 15,000, according to the County of Kauai.

“Depending on the event type, scenario and scale, other county, state or private facilities may also be used,” Ushio said.

The majority of shelters are state-owned facilities, Ushio said, but the county, via KEMA, works with Hawaii Emergency Management Agency partners to identify and prioritize facilities for upgrades and retrofits.

Though public evacuation shelters offer some protection from high winds and flying debris, Ushio said they are intended to be used as a last resort, as they have not been designed for winds greater than a severe tropical storm.

“These shelters are, however, a safer option than remaining in areas prone to flooding or storm surge inundation, on exposed ridge lines or in older homes with wood frames or single-wall construction,” he said.

Ushio said whenever possible, the public should plan to shelter in place with family or friends, in homes outside of hazard areas that were designed, built or renovated to code. For Kauai County, he said, that means plans dated 1992 or later and built in 1993 or after.

“Homeowners are also encouraged to retrofit their homes, to make them less likely to be damaged and safer for sheltering,” Ushio said.

Padraic Gallagher, Red Cross director of disaster services for Kauai, said he thinks receiving the funding for the retrofitting is “great.”

As the largest and most centralized shelter on Kauai, he said, the War Memorial Convention Hall definitely needs some retrofits.

“The convention hall,” he said, “is centrally located closest to the island’s largest population masses of Lihue and Kapaa.”

As for Kalaheo, Gallagher said the neighborhood center is an excellent location for a new shelter. Currently, the only usable shelter in Kalaheo is at the school, but not all of the classrooms can be used to house those in need.

Gallagher said only about 250 people can currently stay at the school.

“If we could get the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center, that would be great,” he said.

Ushio said not all shelters will be open during an event.

For more information on public shelters, visit the County of Kauai website at http://kauaigis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=9efbad608f404e9983e19f274caf2447.

For more information on how to retrofit your home, visit http://seagrant.soest.hawaii.edu/homeowners-handbook-prepare-natural-hazards.

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Bethany Freudenthal, courts, crime and county reporter, can be reached at 652-7891 or bfreudenthal@thegardenisland.com.

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