City hopes to alleviate confusion during evacuations

By Lara Yamada
Published On: Dec 12 2012 07:29:53 PM HST
Updated On: Dec 13 2012 07:05:38 AM HST

City receives a grant to launch a clear tsunami evacuation plan.

HONOLULU -

"Confusion is our enemy here, and information is our best tool," said Bob Collins, who is heading a team of consultants, planners, and engineers to create a better evacuation strategy.

The need for that couldn't have been more evident on October 27, 2012.

During Hawaii's latest tsunami scare, sirens didn't work, evacuation zones were unclear, and the confusion that ensued turned roadways into parking lots.

"There is no single silver bullet that will solve all the questions," said Dept. of Emergency Management Director Melvin Kaku.

So, the city has launched a program to clearly define the most high-risk communities, there are eight so far, the worst routes, Kamehameha and Farrington, and then find better ways to get people to safety.

"Once we've gotten them onto the road way, if we don't tell them where to go, quickly and efficiently we're just creating a lot of confusion," said Collins.

The city is taking up a signage system already in use on Hawaii County, that clearly shows where evacuation zones start and end, and then which way to go.

Those high-risk communities say it's about time.

"What's exciting is the rubber is finally hitting the road, because we've been barking to get some city involvement for some 3 plus years," said Jay Oku, who is with the North Shore Disaster Planning Committee.

PHOTOS: New Oahu evacuation plan

The city is also consulting with community leaders on how to educate residents on how to prepare for an evacuation.

"You have to know who lives next to us who we can depend on. We map our neighborhoods to know where our nurses are," said Windward Neighborhood Security Watch President Carlene MacPherson.

Kailua became the first community in the state to become certified as tsunami ready about a year ago.

A sign now marks the entrance to the town off Kailua Rd.

It comes after months of community meetings, fairs, and other educational events to help get the community ready in case of an emergency.

"We have our own plan on what to do," said MacPherson.

"We have to basically bombard our population with this kind of information," said Collins.

The planning team will present their recommendations to the city next September.

They hope to start placing evacuation signs not long after that.

Another task would be designating possible "holding areas," possibly on private properties, to keep people off the roads temporarily.

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