We are so fortunate to live in Hawaiʻi, a place filled with tremendous beauty and natural resources. However, we have some seasonal disasters that are unique to Hawaiʻi and it’s important to be prepared. There are many kinds of natural disaster that can impact our islands. Because of their level of devastation or frequency of occurrence, our top three hazards are hurricanes, tsunamis, and flashfloods. However, earthquakes, volcanic activity, landslides, wildfires, and pandemic outbreaks are also all potential threats. That’s why it’s important to always be prepared.
In early 2020, we saw the beginning of what would become a world-wide pandemic and public health crisis. Understanding what the COVID-19 coronavirus is as well as how we can work together to prevent its spread and where you can go if you have medical, public health, or other questions related to the pandemic is vital to ensuring your health, safety, and well-being.
Please visit my dedicated COVID-19 Response Information and Resources webpage for information about what I am doing on this front in Congress and at home in Hawai‘i as well as federal, state, and local resources.
In the past, I have hosted events in the community as well as telephone town hall meetings to share with you important information about disaster preparedness and relief efforts as well as other issues. To listen to past events, you can visit my virtual town hall webpage.
With Hurricane Douglas approaching the state, it is important to get prepared, including taking additional precautions to account for COVID-19 — such as making sure your preparations include a 2-week supply of hand sanitizer and masks.
A good general resource to start with is FEMA’s hurricane preparedness webpage.
Visit the Hawai‘i Department of Health’s website for information about how to put together your emergency kit!
Take time today to familiarize yourself with the emergency preparedness guide available on HIEMA’s website and this emergency preparedness handbook from Hawaiian Electric.
The Hawai‘i Department of Transportation also has some reminders for travelers as Hurricane Douglas approaches.
The Hawai‘i Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs also advises homeowners to review insurance policies for hurricane and flood coverage.
Table of Contents for Resources:
- Make a plan. Write it down.
- Visit www.ready.gov for templates.
- Create an emergency kit you can grab on the run if needed. It should include:
- Enough water to last 14 days (plan on one gallon per person, per day)
- Enough non-perishable food to last 14 days (canned soups and other nutritionally balanced canned meals are good)
- Manual can opener
- First aid kit
- Battery- or solar-powered radio and flashlight
- Extra batteries
- Cash and checkbook
- Copies of important documents in sealed plastic bag (passport, driver's license, insurance information, property titles/deeds, prescriptions and dosages)
- Blankets, tarps, and duct tape
- Clothing and personal hygiene items
- Preparing for a Disaster
- The most important thing that you can do is to be informed and prepared. Disaster prevention includes both being prepared as well as reducing damages (mitigation). You should use common sense in your disaster prevention.
- Disaster Prevention should include developing a family and pet plan based on your vulnerability to the Hurricane Hazards. You should keep a written plan and share your plan with other friends or family. Discuss the type of hazards that could affect your family. Know your home's vulnerability to storm surge, flooding and wind. Determine escape routes from your home and places to meet. Make a plan now for what to do with your pets if you need to evacuate. Post emergency telephone numbers by your phones and make sure your children know how and when to call 911. Check your insurance coverage. Flood damage is not usually covered by homeowners insurance.
- Additionally, every family should have a disaster preparedness kit. Your disaster preparedness kit should include water, food, blankets, pillows, clothing, flashlights, batteries, a radio, cash, important documents, pet care items, and any other special items that you might need. Make sure that your emergency supplies are non-perishable and that you have a first-aid kit. You might also want to take First Aid, CPR, and disaster preparedness classes.
- Disaster prevention includes modifying your home to strengthen it against storms so that you can be as safe as possible. There are things that you can do to make your home more secure and able to withstand stronger storms. The most important precaution you can take to reduce damage to your home and property is to protect the areas where wind can enter. According to recent wind technology research, it is important to strengthen the exterior of your house so wind and debris do not tear large openings in it. You can do this by protecting and reinforcing your roof, straps, shutters, doors, and garage doors. Remember: building codes reflect the lessons experts have learned from past catastrophes. Contact the local building code official to find out what requirements are necessary for your home improvement projects.
- One of the most important decisions you will have to make is whether or not to evacuate. If you are asked to evacuate, you should do so without delay. But unless you live in a coastal or low-lying area, an area that floods frequently, or in manufactured housing, it is unlikely that emergency managers will ask you to evacuate.
- Heat Exhaustion
- Health officials ask individuals to be aware of the warning signs of heat exhaustion. Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat-related illness that can develop after several days of exposure to high temperatures and inadequate or unbalanced replacement of fluids. Those most prone to heat exhaustion are elderly people, people with high blood pressure, and people working or exercising in a hot environment.
- Warning signs of exhaustion include heavy sweating, paleness, muscle cramps, tiredness, weakness, dizziness, headache, nausea or vomiting, and fainting. The skin may be cool and moist. The victim’s pulse rate will be fast and weak and breathing will be fast and shallow. If heat exhaustion is untreated, it may progress to heat stroke. Seek medical attention immediately if symptoms are severe or if the victim has heart problems or high blood pressure. Otherwise, help the victim to cool off and seek medical attention if symptoms worsen or last longer than one hour.
- Avoiding Dehydration
- To avoid becoming dehydrated, it is important to drink plenty of fluids, especially water. This is particularly true on days when temperatures reach 90 degree Fahrenheit and higher. Do not wait until you get thirsty; drink to prevent thirst.
- Babies from birth – 6 months: usually only need breast milk or formula. On hot days infants should only be offered a maximum of 4 ounces per day of sterilized water from a bottle.
- Babies from 6 – 12 months: breast or formula-fed babies receive some foods and juices that contain water. They may be offered 2-4 ounces of juice from a cup each day. In addition, on hot days they should be given a maximum of 4-8 ounces of sterilized water each day.
- Children 12 months and older: need 64 ounces or more of fluid each day. They should be reminded to drink juice and water throughout the day and encouraged to drink even more on hot days.
- Adults should drink: 64 ounces of water each day (one-half gallon). When exposed to temperatures reaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit and higher, they should drink even more water.
- Mold in Water-damaged Buildings
- In the event that you are forced to clean and repair your storm-damaged homes and buildings, health officials recommend that you take precautionary measures to avoid indoor air quality problems. Moisture that enters buildings from leaks or flooding accelerates mold growth. Molds can cause disease, trigger allergic reactions and continue to damage materials long after the storm. Failure to control moisture and mold can present short and long- term health risks.
- To protect against health risks associated with mold, remove standing water from your home or office and remove wet materials. If mold growth has already occurred, carefully remove or clean the moldy material. Consider using personal protective equipment when cleaning or removing mold. Individuals with known mold allergies or asthma should not clean or remove moldy materials.
- Carbon Monoxide (CO)
- Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas, and is highly poisonous. Depending on the level of exposure, CO may cause fatigue, weakness, chest pains, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, headaches, confusion, lack of coordination, impaired vision, loss of consciousness, and in severe cases, death. You can avoid CO exposure by taking precautions with gas-powered appliances and charcoal or gas grills.
- The following precautions are also recommended to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Do not burn charcoal or gas grills inside a house, garage, vehicle, tent or fireplace.
- Do not use gas-powered generators or pressure washers indoors or in the garage.
- If you suspect you are experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning, open doors and windows, turn off gas appliances and go outside.
- In cases of severe CO poisoning, call 911 or the Poison Information Center at 1-800-222-1222.
- Boiling Water
- In the event of flooding and hurricane damage, health officials may advise individuals who are under a boil water notice to take precautions against contaminated water. Boiling water kills harmful bacteria and parasites (freezing will not disinfect water). Though the risk of illness is minimal, individuals who have recent surgical wounds, are immunosuppressed, or have a chronic illness may want to consider using bottled or boiled water for cleansing until any such advisory is lifted. Even if someone has consumed potentially contaminated water from either a public water system or a private well before they were aware of the boil water advisory, the likelihood of becoming ill is low. Anyone experiencing symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, with or without fever, should seek medical attention.
- Food Safety
- In the case of an electrical outage, it is important to take careful precautions to ensure food safety. The risk of food poisoning is heightened when refrigerators and ovens are inaccessible. Discard any food that has been at room temperature for two hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color, or texture. Just remember: When in doubt, throw it out! People can practice safe food handling and prevent foodborne illness by following some simple steps:
- A full cooler will maintain its cold temperatures longer than one that is partially filled, so it is important to pack plenty of extra ice or freezer packs to insure a constant cold temperature.
- Thawed food can usually be eaten if it is still “refrigerator cold,” or re-frozen if it still contains ice crystals.
- Eggs and other foods need to be stored in 40 degrees Fahrenheit or slightly below.
- Wash your hands before preparing or eating food, after using the bathroom or changing a diaper, after handling uncooked food, after playing with a pet, after handling garbage, after tending to someone who is sick or injured, after blowing your nose, and after coughing or sneezing.
- Fight “cross-contamination,” the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods, cutting boards or utensils. Never place any type of food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry or seafood.
- Use a meat thermometer to insure that food reaches a safe internal temperature.
For additional food safety information, call the toll-free USDA/FSIS Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854.
- Measures to Prevent Mosquito-borne Illnesses
- When dealing with floodwaters, it is important for people to protect themselves against mosquito-borne diseases. The public can remain diligent in their personal mosquito protection efforts by avoiding being outdoors when mosquitoes are seeking blood and wearing clothing that covers all skin. When the potential exists for exposure to mosquitoes, repellents containing up to 30 percent DEET are recommended. It is not recommended to use DEET on children younger than 2 months old. Check your home to rid it of standing water, which is where mosquitoes can lay their eggs.
- Additionally, make sure that windows remain closed or are sealed completely by screens at night. One of the keys to prevention is the elimination of mosquito breeding sites, which includes cleaning out eaves and gutters, turning over or removing empty plastic pots, picking up all beverage containers and cups, and removing vegetation or obstructions in drainage ditches that prevent the flow of water.
- Hygiene After the Storm
- After a hurricane, basic hygiene is very important. Always wash your hands with soap and water that has been boiled or disinfected before eating, after toilet use, after participating in cleanup activities, and after handling articles contaminated by floodwater or sewage. Flooding that occurs after the hurricane may mean that water contains fecal matter from sewage systems, agricultural and industrial waste and septic tanks. If you have open cuts or sores exposed to the floodwater, keep them as clean as possible by washing them with soap and clean water. Apply antibiotic ointment to reduce the risk of infection. If a wound or sore develops redness, swelling or drainage, see a physician. Do not allow children to play in floodwater. They can be exposed to water contaminated with fecal matter. Do not allow children to play with toys that have been in floodwater until the toys have been disinfected. Use one quarter cup of bleach in one gallon of water.
- To prevent fire hazards in the case of a power outage, use battery-powered lanterns and flashlights rather than candles. If you must use candles, make sure you put them in safe holders away from curtains, paper, wood, or other flammable items.
- Be Informed
- Know evacuation routes, and listen to local authorities when asked to evacuate. Everyone should know their risks. Whether you live in a coastal community or inland, speak with your insurance agent now about flood insurance and review your homeowner’s policy. Every state is at risk for flooding and homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. Flood insurance is a cost-effective way to prepare financially for floods. To learn more about your risk and flood insurance, visit the website of the National Flood Insurance Program.
- To stay informed during a storm keep a battery-powered radio for weather and evacuation information should you experience a power outage and have extra batteries on hand.
- Additional Resources:
- Download the FEMA app, which provides updated news and emergency information by county.
Red Cross (@HawaiiRedCross): Red Cross assists with the immediate and ongoing responses to natural disasters, and provides emergency supplies for individuals and families who have been impacted by disasters, opens shelters in affected communities, and offers related services and supports. More information about the Red Cross’s current work in Hawai‘i can be found online at http://www.redcross.org/Hawaii. You can also call them, here: 808-734-2101.
- Survivors are encouraged to follow the directions of state and local officials. If told to evacuate, do so before it is too late. Shelters are open throughout Hawaii. The American Red Cross has asked residents to bring their food and water supplies with them to the shelters. Check in with the American Red Cross’s Safe and Well site to check in and find missing individuals. If you encounter flood waters, remember – TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN. Community members are the true first responders. Check on your neighbors, and provide help until first responders are able to arrive. Hawaii residents are encouraged to visit Ready.gov/hawaii or Hawaii Emergency Management Agency for more information.
- For updates on Hurricane Lane, please visit FEMA EM-3399 Hurricane Lane Webpage or Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.
- For airport status, please visit FAA’s Status Page for Hawaii Airports.
- County Emergency Management Website: Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency, Honolulu County Department of Emergency Management , Kauai County Emergency Management Agency, Maui County Emergency Management Agency
- For information on non-profit organizations accepting donations, click here.
- For updates and alerts, follow Hawaiian Electric on Facebook (www.facebook.com/HawaiianElectric) and Twitter (www.twitter.com/hwnelectric.) If you see a downed power line, assume it is energized and dangerous. Stay away from all power lines. Warn others to stay away. Call Hawaiian Electric’s Trouble Line at 1-855-304-1212 or for emergency assistance call 911.
Preparedness and Safety Information
- Local authorities are urging the public to be prepared with 14-day supply of water and non-perishable food items in case of a power outage.
- If you do not live in a flood-prone area, you should prepare to shelter in place. If you live in a flood-prone area, you should find an available shelter.
- You should listen to NOAA Weather Radio, watch TV, listen to the radio for official news, emergency alerts, and instructions as they become available.
- Be familiar with evacuation routes, have a family communications plan, keep a battery-powered radio handy and have a plan for pets. Visit http://www.ready.gov or www.listo.gov to learn these and other preparedness tips for tropical storms.
- Businesses of all sizes should prepare in advance of a potential disaster to prevent loss of life, property, or disruption to operations. Businesses can review and update their business continuity plans and ensure their workforce knows what to do before and during a disaster. Resources are available on web sites such as Ready.gov/business and SBA.gov/disaster-planning.
- If you have a National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) flood policy, you may be eligible for reimbursement of actions taken to protect your property. Call your insurance agent to find out more.
- Get to know the terms that are used to identify severe weather and discuss with your family what to do if a watch or warning is issued. Know what to do for a tropical storm/hurricane or for flooding.
- Download the FEMA mobile app (available in English and Spanish) to receive emergency alerts and safety information so you and your loved ones know what to do before, during, and after disasters. This simple and easy-to-use app provides real-time alerts from the National Weather Service, open emergency shelter locations in your area, and preparedness tips for every type of disaster. Free and available on Apple and Android devices.
- Download the Hawaiian Electric mobile app so you can use the online outage map and report outages directly.
- More information about how to prepare for and respond to a volcanic eruption can be found online at https://www.ready.gov/volcanoes or https://www.epa.gov/natural-disasters/volcanoes.
- Information about vog can be found online at http://www.ivhhn.org/vog/.
- For non-emergency help on Hawai‘i Island, dial: 808-935-3311.
- Veterans Affairs Pacific Islands Health Care System’s (VAPIHCS) Hilo Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) is open and stands ready to provide and support scheduled appointments and walk-ins for veterans. Veterans needing an appointment can call the Toll-Free Call Center at 1 (800) 214-1306.
A fact sheet on FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program (IHP) is available here. Individuals in Hawaiʻi County can register with FEMA the following ways:
- Apply online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.
- Constituents may call the registration phone number at 1-800-621-3362; those who have a speech disability or hearing loss and use TTY, should call 1-800-462-7585 directly; for those who use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 1-800-621-3362
- More information about how to prepare for and respond to floods can be found online, here: https://www.ready.gov/floods; also, here: https://www.epa.gov/natural-disasters/flooding.
- For non-emergency help on Kaua‘i, dial: 808-241-1711.
- For non-emergency help on O’ahu, dial: 808-529-3111.
- Lastly, National Flood Insurance Program policyholders may call 1-800-621-3362 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CDT) for general information, servicing of claims, or technical assistance.
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7, 365-day-a-year crisis counseling and support to people experiencing emotional distress related to natural or human-caused disasters.
- The Disaster Distress Helpline is a national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Call (800) 985-5990, TTY (800) 846-8517 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor (Spanish-speakers text: Hablanos to 66746).
- Crisis Line of Hawai‘i is available for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis 24/7 – neighbor island residents call 1-800-753-6879; Oahu residents call 832-3100.
Electronic Benefit Transfer Cards (SNAP/TANF): More information about EBT cards, including information about how to replace lost or damaged cards, can be found online at http://humanservices.hawaii.gov/bessd/snap/ebt/. You can also call the Hawai‘i Department of Human Services, here: 888-328-4292. (EBT benefits can also be accessed online at https://www.ebtaccount.jpmorgan.com/chp).
- North Kauai residents who lost their EBT cards in the flood can visit the Hawai‘i State Department of Human Services (DHS) Kaua‘i Processing Center at the Former Lihue Courthouse Building (3059 Umi Street, Room A110 / Lihue, Kauai 96819). You can also call the processing center, here: 808-274-3371.
- East Hawaii residents who lost their EBT cards due to the lava flow can visit the Hawai‘i State DHS South Hilo Processing Center at the Kinoole Plaza (1990 Kinoole Street #108 / Hilo, Hawaii 96720). You can also call the processing center, here: 808-981-2754.
Green Cards: USCIS will assist those directly affected by an emergency situation with the replacement of any USCIS issued document as quickly as possible. Requests for scheduling/re-scheduling of InfoPass and other interview appointments in Honolulu will also be accommodated. Such requests should include an explanation of the circumstances and any supporting evidence, such as copies of government issued evacuation notices, etc. Additional information is available on the USCIS website at https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/after-green-card-granted/replace-green-card. You can also call them, here: 800-375-5283.
- Hawai‘i Island residents can also call the County of Hawai‘i Immigration Office, at: 808-961-8220. To meet with a representative at the USCIS Honolulu Field Office, make an INFOPASS appointment online at https://my.uscis.gov/appointment.
Birth, Death, Civil Union, Marriage, and Divorce Certificates: The Hawai‘i State Department of Health can provide more information about how to replace lost or damaged certificates http://health.hawaii.gov/vitalrecords or https://vitrec.ehawaii.gov/vitalrecords/. You can also call them at 808-586-4539.
Driver's Licenses: County specific information about replacing drivers’ licenses can be found on the following websites:
- County of Kaua‘i: https://www.kauai.gov/DriversLicense/; or call: 808-241-4242.
- City and County of Honolulu: https://www1.honolulu.gov/duplicates/; or call: 808-768-9100.
- County of Maui: https://www.mauicounty.gov/1518/DuplicateReplacement-License/; or call: 808-270-7363.
- County of Hawai‘i: http://www.hawaiicounty.gov/finance-dl-general-info/#duplicate%20license%20requirements/; or call: 808-961-2222.
Credit Reports: Contact Equifax, Experian, or Transunion at 877-322-8228 or visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com/.
Fraud Alerts or a Credit Freeze: Call 877-438-4338 or click here.
Social Security Card: Call 800-772-1213 or click here.
- Hawai‘i Island residents can also visit the Hilo Social Security office at Prince Kunio Plaza (111 East Puainako Street), or use the Social Security Administration’s Video Delivery Service at the West Hawaii Civic Center (74-5044 Ane Keohokalole Highway / Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740) on the second and fourth Thursday of each month, between 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
Medicare Cards: Call 800-772-1213 or click here.
Passport: Call 202-955-0430 or 877-487-2778 or click here.
U.S. Savings Bonds: Call 800-722-2678 or 800-553-2663 or click here.
Federal Tax Returns: Call 800-829-1040 or click here. To make an appointment with the IRS’s Tax Payer Assistance Center in Hilo, call: 844-545-5640. To contact the IRS Taxpayer Advocate’s Office in Honolulu, call: 808-566-2950.
Military Service Records: Call 866-272-6272 or click here.
Replacing Business Documents:
- Following a natural disaster, local Small Business Development Centers can provide business counseling services and technical assistance for business owners. More information about an SBDC located near you can be found here.