An emergency response and evacuation plan for a disaster at Puna’s geothermal power plant is not needed, according to Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Benedict Fuata, who said that existing emergency plans would cover such an incident.
Fuata said last month he intended to come up with a site-specific plan after some Puna residents voiced alarm at the absence of such a document at a County Council meeting in Pahoa last April.
But after further review, Fuata said the county already has that issue covered under its incident command system.
The ICS outlines how police, fire and other emergency responders would react to a disaster. It’s intended to provide a flexible framework for coordinating multiple agencies to respond to a range of incidents, including environmental disasters, which Fuata said would cover a disaster at Puna Geothermal Venture.
“It’s the same protocol we would follow as if one of the fuel tankers (exploded),” he said.
County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, who has introduced a bill requiring a plan specifically for a disaster at the plant, said he doesn’t think that is enough to resolve concerns of nearby residents, adding the change in approach “seems like an about-face.”
“An evacuation plan in my estimation is a … plan that adheres to an area or community that we are talking about,” he said.
The council will have its final vote on the bill Tuesday.
Yagong said he welcomes Fuata to speak at the meeting to provide further explanation.
The bill would require an “emergency response and evacuation plan” for the plant to be submitted to the council by Aug. 1.
Emergency plans for any new geothermal facility would have to be developed within 90 days of it becoming operational. The council would also review the plans each year.
If the bill passes, Fuata said, “I will develop the same plan that I have or present the same plan that I have.”
He said he was going to develop a plan specifically for a disaster at the plant “until I realized, this already exists.”
Yagong said Puna residents will ultimately be the judge of whether that’s sufficient.
“As we take up the final reading of the bill, I would venture to say that the people have been screaming for a plan that is structured for Puna,” he said. “And if they don’t get that, I don’t think Mr. Fuata is going to get a warm reception.”
Fuata said he still plans to do a “table-top” run-through of a geothermal disaster with the county’s emergency responders to make sure they are on the “same page.”
“We want to make sure we’re not misinterpreting each other,” he said.
But Fuata said he is no longer considering an evacuation drill involving residents.
“It would be premature to do that,” he said.
Several nearby residents have testified recently to the council that they suffer from health problems that they believe are caused by the 19-year-old plant.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.