The Hawaiian islands, living examples of the adage “Necessity is the mother of invention,” clearly demonstrate the value in building resilience to disasters.
“Hawaii is the most isolated population center on the face of the earth,” an emergency management officer with Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) reminds us in an interview with KHON2.com in Honolulu. Out of necessity and through dedication, the island state and JBPHH in particular have become models for building resilient communities.
Resilience, in the field of disaster preparation, refers specifically to an organization or community’s total investment toward “bouncing back” as opposed to simply surviving. Many community leaders in areas prone to natural disasters advocate for greater spending toward building resilience. They make a strong case that federal, state, and local money goes further in bolstering community strength before a disaster than in clean-up and rebuilding afterwards.
Hawaii is ahead of most other states, in large measure due to the Hawaii Hazards Awareness and Resilience Program (HHARP). Along with identifying community risks and resources, the program coordinates efforts and equipment among governmental, non-profit, and community organizations.
For the Aloha State, the program is hardly optional. Emergency supplies from the mainland arrive via ships, which can take as long as ten days between voyage and unloading. That’s why the statewide rule of thumb for individual household preparedness is seven to ten days’ supplies. Stockpiles at centers such as Hawaii State Civil Defense and the Pacific Disaster Center are simply not large enough to provide relief to everyone on the islands within a day or two, even in the unlikely event that they could reach everyone so quickly.
With that in mind, JBPHH mounted efforts in recent months to become a Recognized Resilient Community. The HHARP-run program “teaches participants to safeguard their loved ones, homes, and property, and work with their neighbors to plan and prepare for, respond to, and recover from natural disasters.” Last month, JBPHH received Resilient Community recognition from HHARP.
A JBPHH representative told KHON2.com that the community has to be resilient, because the military is expected to be a resource for the State of Hawaii in the event of a natural disaster. Likewise, communities across the nation which are certified resilient can assist neighboring communities. The expense of bringing a city or town into certified resilient status can thus be recouped many times over through multiplied savings in the reduced clean-up and rebuilding stages.
As recently seen after the historic Louisiana floods, many politicians like to capitalize on the “photo ops” after a disaster. The real assistance comes from public and private entities that prepare for years behind the scenes. Instead of opportunistic appearances for the cameras, politicians would do better to fund resilience programs which actually benefit American communities. It’s time for them to start thinking of the well-being of citizens ahead of their concerns about re-election.
My upcoming novel, ULTIMATE ERROR, is about the challenges of recovery (if possible) from the worst of man-made disasters. If our mistakes are not too great, our resilience will be tested.