Even though almost four years have passed since Kilauea erupted and spread large lava flows around the Big Island, destroying hundreds of homes, no evacuation procedures have been developed in case of another eruption.

University of Hawaii Student Stories project badgeNow, the Senate is calling on the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to develop emergency evacuation plans for lava zones that cover the Big Island.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 7 would require HIEMA to finish a preliminary draft of those plans by the 2023 legislative session. The resolution also requests that the agency develop plans for areas including South Kona and Kau in addition to zones that cover the slopes of Mauna Loa and parts of Puna and Pahoa.

David Lopez, executive officer of HIEMA, told lawmakers in March that emergency management functions are currently being handled at the county level.

Luke Meyers, HIEMA administrator, said in written testimony that previous efforts to finish evacuation plans for the Big Island were hampered by a lack of resources. He said that passage of this resolution “could negatively impact emergency management efforts and response for ongoing and future emergencies.”

The Senate adopted the resolution on April 4 and sent it to the House for further consideration.

Lava erupts in Leilani Estates near Pohoiki Road after several large quakes rocked the area. Pahoa, Hawaii.
Lawmakers want the state to pick up the pace in developing evacuation plans for areas affected by lava on the Big Island. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

There are, however, concerns at the local level of how the plan would be carried out. In the district of Puna, which is located near the Kilauea volcano, there is only one way into the community and one way out.

“Even though it’s for the greater good, maybe there are other solutions,” said Kaile Culuole, a representative at the Office of Hawaii Affairs. Culuole shared some concerns of community members claiming that escape routes would go right through Hawaiian homestead lands, possibly causing constant traffic through quiet neighborhoods.

If emergency plans move forward into a drafting phase, community members will be able to provide input regarding their concerns.

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