HANALEI, Kauai — Two disparate communities here are moving ahead with their own localized, custom-made disaster response plans, having looked at government and other large nonprofit offerings like the Red Cross and decided, essentially, to say: “No, thank you.”

They’re in vastly different parts of Kauai. On the North Shore, people who live in the Hanalei-Haena corridor have hired a consultant to help develop a comprehensive community disaster response and recovery plan.

At nearly the other end of the island, the community is using a model originally developed by the Hawaii National Guard to formulate a very different plan for the Hanpepe-Eleele corridor on the West Side.

The Hanapepe-Eleele plan follows a pattern pioneered on Oahu, where six communities have already implemented the so-called Hawaii Hazards Awareness and Resilience Program and five more are doing so. Already in operation are HHARP disaster response plans for Waimanalo, Kailua, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Aina Haina, Manoa and the Waianae Coast. In creation are HHARP plans for Ewa Beach, Hawaii Kai, Kaneohe, Kahaluu and Mililani.

Here on Kauai, the Hanalei-Haena and Hanapepe-Eleele plans picked up momentum as a result of catastrophic flooding on the North Shore last year and related — if smaller — events in the Koloa area that came as a record breaking storm pummeled the island.

In both cases, the plans in question are most focused on the potential for hurricane or tsunami events, but intended to be adaptable to novel disaster scenarios like the mid-April storms and more flooding that spread in the wake of Tropical Storm Lane in August. The onslaught was responsible for devastating several miles of Kuhio Highway, creating an area closed to everyone but residents that is likely to remain shut down until late 2019.

A road closed sign near the end of Weke Road in Hanalei after flood waters caused a large sink hole.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The situation in Hanalei-Haena is also linked to the depopulation effects of the growing presence of transient vacation rental properties that have displaced longtime residents and made disaster response far more challenging because there are far fewer permanent residents who can be trained as first responders. The community, essentially, activated itself in the April disaster to rescue a growing tourist population.

“This could have ended so badly,” said Makaala Kaaumoana, executive director of the Hanalei Watershed Hui, who started the planning process that eventually became a core activity of the Hanalei-Haena Community Association.

The storms resulted directly in no deaths and no serious injuries, but accounts of miraculously close calls are still emerging with tales of families trapped in flooded houses pulled from near drowning with just minutes to spare, or people swept away by mud flows but who somehow survived.

There were actually two disaster events on the North Shore last year. The first, in mid-April, was the event now known as Rain 18, in which a precipitation bomb dropped 50 inches of new rainfall. But in late August, along came Hurricane Lane, which drenched the entire island chain with more than 50 additional inches of rain even after it was downgraded to tropical storm status.

The Hanalei-Haena disaster plan has actually been under development for a decade, with the community employing a consultant, Sarah Henly-Shepard, who has worked with resilience planning projects in several different locations, including foreign countries. She has published widely in the professional literature of disaster planning.

“What drove the initial plan was that in 2008, the county established the vacation rental ordinance,” Kaaumoana said. “So we looked around and said we now had one half of our neighborhood in vacation rental. So how does that play out when we flood? We saw the resilience of Hanalei reduced by at least 50 percent.”

“I don’t know if we will ever be completely done.” — Jean Souza, West Side emergency plan organizer

The community, she said, clearly wanted a plan tailored to Hanalei’s unique situation. So programs like the Kauai Fire Department’s Community Emergency Response Team and institutional nonprofit programs like the Red Cross were rejected as models as too standardized and driven by non-Hanalei objectives.

Kaaumoana considered implementing the HHART program that was ultimately adopted by Hanapepe-Eleele. In fact, according to Kaaumoana and Jean Souza, one of the organizers of the West Side plan, after Kaaumoana received a kit of materials from the Hawaii National Guard that outlined the program, Hanalei decided it wasn’t right for the community, but gave the kit and contact information to Hanapepe-Eleele, which found it ideal for their needs.

The process began under the aegis of the Hanapepe-Eleele Community Association but has evolved into a more freestanding community program.

“I don’t know if we will ever be completely done,” said Souza, noting that the community has nearly completed the required HHARP planning process. “We have been meeting as a community for three years now and once we become a HHARP community, we will continue to meet.”

She said the group has focused on a broad range of needs, leading many community members to obtain ham radio operator licenses and some stockpiling of emergency gear.

Souza said the Hanapepe-Eleele group has not turned its back on the fire department’s CERT program and that many people in the HHARP process are — and have been — CERT members.

A key difference, though, she said, is that while CERT training emphasizes things that both individuals and teams can do to respond to emergencies, a large scale activation of CERT can only be ordered by KFD. For Hanapepe-Eleele, the HHARP team can be activated entirely at the local level.

Shepard is currently working on an update of the plan for Hanalei-Haena and has been holding community seminars to freshen the work.

“I’ve been doing community development work for 20 years,” she said. “As far as community based disaster resilience goes, this is the longest relationship. All too often, these projects expire when the funding expires, but community leaders here have remained committed with or without funding. It really speaks to their long-term commitment.”

Will you help us?

There are upsides to being a nonprofit as we carry out our public-service mission. We don’t have a paywall on our site, charge a subscription fee, or clutter our articles with ads. But this also means that reader support sustains every aspect of what we do. Without you, we don’t exist. It’s as simple as that. By donating, you’re supporting everyone on staff—and allowing unbiased, factual, honest journalism to thrive. If you value our work, will you make a tax-deductible donation today?

About the Author