HANALEI — Kaua‘i County and two community organizations are working on separate initiatives to harden the North Shore’s defenses in the event of a natural disaster by creating permanent infrastructure to be used if disaster strikes.
The county project will be discussed at a public meeting Feb. 26 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at a community open house at the Hanalei Neighborhood Center at the old courthouse. The event is hosted by the office of Mayor Derek Kawakami.
The project, which will be called the Wainiha Community Resilience Center, will include a building to serve as a staging area for disaster-supply distribution in future emergencies, and as office space to be used post-event by the Kaua‘i Police Department, the Kaua‘i Fire Department and state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
The project will also include a new base yard, storage areas, a covered lanai to be used for meetings, and an area that could be developed into a certified community kitchen at some point in the future.
A county spokesperson said the $2.2 million cost of the facility will be provided under existing state emergency relief legislation originally sponsored by state Rep. Nadine Nakamura.
The project will be built at the site of the former Ha‘ena School, which closed many years ago. The site was turned into a temporary refuse transfer station after the disastrous flood events of April, 2018.
One of the lessons emergency responders learned from the disaster was that there was no predesignated site anywhere from Hanalei west where emergency supplies could be stored and distributed to victims after the flooding left Kuhio Highway cut and out of service for more than a year.
Emergency sites had to be found to house fire and police vehicles to be ready to respond to emergencies when normal emergency services could not access the North Shore.
Hastily-cobbled-together facilities were developed at YMCA’s Camp Naue, the Hanalei Colony Resort, and at various private sites along the highway.
The county spokesperson said the plan does not provide for emergency supplies that would be distributed from the new center because of concerns for keeping food, first-aid supplies and other commodities current and ready for use. Security concerns were also a factor.
In the event of a disaster, food and other supplies could be delivered by boat or helicopter and then stored in the new resilience center.
“The money exists,” said the county spokesperson. “We are hoping to move the project forward soon.”
A project that will complement the new county facility is the Hanalei Community Resiliency Plan, developed by the Hanalei Watershed Hui. The organization has begun organizing community emergency responders, and has identified several specific areas where relief efforts would need to be concentrated.
Key to the organization’s success will be a new communications trailer that could improve radio and other emergency communications on a part of the island with unreliable — at best — cellular phone service and vulnerability to disruption of power, cable and water services.
Maka‘ala Ka‘aumoana, executive director of the hui, said development of the communications trailer was an outgrowth of an extensive planning process undertaken by the hui over the last several years. She said the trailer will not be a distribution for emergency supplies, but will focus on reestablishing and maintaining communications to the fragile North Shore area.
Ka‘aumoana was enthusiastic about the county’s planned resilience center. “It’s such a good thing,” she said.
“The idea would be it could compliment the communications trailer.” She said there is an ongoing need for warehousing some emergency-response supplies in the area, but “one of the main problems in the events of 2018 was the security of goods that were being received.”
The third initiative relating to North Shore disaster preparedness involves Anaina Hou Community Park in Kilauea. Jill Lowry, the facility’s executive director, said she envisions a community-resilience hub that could be constructed on the park property and also use existing buildings there.
Because Kilauea is not nearly as vulnerable to being completely cut off in a disaster as the area from Hanalei west, Lowry said, the park could be used for storage of emergency supplies and equipment, an alternative helicopter landing zone and temporary housing for emergency response workers. Anaina Hou has an existing certified kitchen that could be pressed into service as an emergency-response facility, Lowry said.
“We have lots of space to use as a command center and community hub,” Lowry said. “We are on the right side of the bridge,” meaning that highway closures limiting access to Kilauea are far more unlikely than shutdowns of access and bridges in the Hanalei-Ha‘ena area. Anaina Hou’s facilities include the Porter Pavilion, a large, covered performance and event space.
Lowry said there is no construction timeline for the facilities, but that she has met with KPD and KFD “to discuss how Anaina Hou can support disaster resilience on the North Shore.” She noted that the area has a notorious dearth of emergency shelter facilities “to deal with anything more than a tropical storm.”
This story has been edited to reflect accurate meeting date as Feb. 26.
Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident, furniture-maker and retired public relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.