Going to an evacuation shelter in advance of a hurricane isn’t like what you see in the movies, Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira says.
“They create an expectation there will be meals, cots, blankets,” he said. “That’s likely not to be the case in an initial evacuation.”
Most of Hawaii County’s evacuation shelters are schools, usually gyms, so people seeking a safe place to ride out a hurricane will find running water, restrooms and a structure built strong enough to withstand hurricane force winds. And that’s about it, Oliveira said.
In addition to the spartan conditions, people won’t get much personal space, especially if the shelter is full. Shelter users should expect to get about 10 square feet for themselves and their belongings.
Maria Lutz, director of emergency services for the American Red Cross in Hawaii, was even blunter about what the conditions could look like. The space will likely be standing room only.
“The conditions will be pretty tough,” Lutz said. “We’ll be asking for you to bring your seven-day kit, with seven days of food and water. (There will be) most likely no electricity, the water and sewage system may go out. It’s going to be really noisy.
A 2011 survey indicated about 35 percent of state residents said they would evacuate during a hurricane, Lutz said. That will put a lot of pressure on the state’s limited number of hurricane-certified locations.
Oliveira said a safe evacuation begins long before the hurricane makes landfall. He recommended couples and families discuss their evacuation options now, deciding to which shelter they would go. People should keep a box of some emergency supplies in their vehicles, in case they need to evacuate and don’t have time to go home.
Predetermining the conditions in which they will take shelter is a way to keep people safer, Oliveira said.
“Go when the time allows, rather than with the winds picking up,” he added.
When a storm is designated a tropical storm, Civil Defense officials begin issuing information about high winds, storm surge and heavy rains.
“People in flood-prone areas and coastal areas should already be thinking about evacuating,” he said.
Hawaii County Civil Defense will sound the tsunami warning siren in the event that a hurricane watch becomes a hurricane warning, Oliveira said. That is when landfall is coming within 36 hours, he said. At that point, people should not leave their homes or the building in which they are sheltering.
Civil Defense officials will make lists of open shelters available on the website, hawaiicounty.gov/active-alerts, as well as announce the opening of shelters and storm updates on the radio. Oliveira said he distributes the information to all Big Island media, and West Hawaii Today will provide frequent updates on its website as well.
Family members should discuss post-disaster meeting places, in case they are separated during the emergency event. Hawaii State Civil Defense has an emergency plan template available on its website, scd.hawaii.gov, under the “Prepare Now” heading. That plan includes listing phone numbers for emergency contacts in and out of state, doctors, veterinarians for any pets, the family’s insurance agent and listing which shelters the family intends to use.
Making the choice to evacuate isn’t easy, Oliveira said.
“A lot of people have a hard time leaving their home,” he said. “They don’t know what they’re going to come back to.”
Hawaii Island hasn’t taken a direct hit from a hurricane in many years, leading people to believe the island is immune to such incidents, he added. That’s a myth.
People contemplating evacuating for a hurricane should be especially aware of the age of their home. Generally speaking, houses built in the mid-1990s and later should be able to resist hurricane winds. That’s because the state and counties enacted legislation following Hurricane Iniki in 1992 to adjust building codes and standards to withstand hurricanes. An older home that hasn’t been retrofitted may not be a safe place during a storm, Oliveira said.
When going to a shelter, in addition to the seven-day kit, bring all medications you or family members need, clothing, bedding, flashlight, an emergency radio, a first aid kid and any important documents, Oliveira said. If someone is bringing children to a shelter, bring something to keep them occupied while they ride out the storm.
With so many smartphones, tablets and portable DVD players, Oliveira recommended bringing a power strip or two, as well. The shelters have a limited number of electrical outlets, so the power strips may help shelter users recharge their electronic devices.