How Prepared is Hawai’i for a Major Emergency or Crisis?

November 16, 2017
6pm   -   8pm
West Hawai'i Civic Center, Council Chambers

The November 16th West Hawai’i Community Forum will explore the connected subjects of “Preparedness, Self-Sufficiency, and Sustainability” in Hawai’i, as experts discuss the fragility of island living, its vulnerabilities to emergencies, disasters, and supply-chain disruptions, and current state-wide response plans to restoring daily island life norms for Hawai’i residents and its economy after a major life-disrupting event.

The forum will also explore plans and efforts to address global warming threats to infrastructure, property, and people, and how sustainable agricultural practices can address some current vulnerabilities…Hawaii Hazards graph


Panelists will further provide insights on the emergency response systems in place, ways to create sustainable and complete systems that enable greater locally produced food independence, ways we may lessen energy import dependencies and create greater energy system resilience through island-based clean energy independence, how to ensure access to clean water, process and reuse of waste, and equally important, do all this in harmony with the environment on which we all depend.

The State Emergency Operations Plan calls for (see the Support Documents section on this forum page for complete details)  …“all residents of the state are expected to be prepared with at least seven (7) days of resources needed to meet their basic needs following an emergency or disaster.” Hawai’i County recommends doubling that preparation to an on-hand 14 day supply of essentials. “Catastrophic disasters will require even greater personal preparation and the public is encouraged to be self‐sufficient for a more extended period.


Ninety percent of goods and 100% of fuel are imported into the state. Almost all commodities arrive by sea.  Air cargo only accounts for approximately 1% of imported goods.   The sea port system operates as a hub and spoke.

Commodities arrive at ports on Oahu and are then delivered by barge to neighbor islands. The supply chain is long and complex, taking up to 3 weeks from the time goods are shipped from the mainland until they arrive on store shelves.

In addition to the lack of local manufacturers, the state relies on a ‘just‐in‐time’ logistics system for commodities, meaning direct delivery from ship to store. There is no large warehousing system that can quickly meet surges in demand for emergency supplies and other necessities. It is estimated that there is only five (5) to seven (7) days of food supply in the state. A disruption to the supply chain would have an almost immediate impact on the population.

The state’s sea ports and airports are extremely vulnerable to damage from Hawaii’s greatest natural threats – hurricanes and tsunamis. All seaports, and all but one major airport, are in inundation areas (subject to rising sea levels).

The restoration of commercial seaports following a major disaster will be challenged by a lack of equipment within the state needed for port recovery. This equipment would take at least seven (7) days to arrive from the mainland. In the event of major damage, restoring partial operations at the Port of Honolulu will likely take at least three weeks. The timeline for full restoration is unknown.  A reliable timeline for reopening damaged airports to commercial flights has not been established.

Of greatest concern is an extended closure of the Port of Honolulu, as there is not an alternative that can rapidly be implemented to bring in sufficient commodities. The entire state would be impacted, even if no other islands sustained damage.

Neighbor island ports are not deep enough to handle large container ships. While goods can be shipped by barge from the mainland as an alternative, these ships are slower and carry less cargo.   While more goods would be brought in by air following a major event, the limited cargo capacity of the state’s airports means they could not come close to replicating the sea port’s throughput.

SUSTAINABILITY – like a mythical Utopia, first imagined 500 years ago by Sir Thomas More, sustainable living is something often held as an aspirational goal, but rarely seen.  Here in Hawai’i, the definition of “sustainability” means many things to many people.

This forum explores Sustainability in Hawai’i, with a focus on Hawai’i island’s supply-chain vulnerabilities of island living, our preparedness as an island state to major disrupting events, such as super storms, and the possibilities of greater food and energy independence from our current mainland supply chain through sustainable practices that play an important role in lessening external dependencies to daily life in Hawai’i.

Natural Disaster Costs on the RiseSustainable practices in energy, agriculture and daily living will enable greater island independence from imported food stocks and energy – two key elements to island life.   A primary goal of this forum will be educating our island wide community on real world applications, opportunities, and solutions that serve as building blocks to a self-sustaining lifestyle and economy for Hawai’i island.

Normally the subjects of sustainability and preparedness might be addressed separately, however, the linkage between climate change  and droughts, super storm events, sea-level rise, and major weather events are all amplified by Hawaii’s dependence on a fragile supply-chain, external to the island chain.

HAWAII ISLAND’s FOOD CHALLENGE – plenty of Land, but not enough farming infrastructure and water

Achieving a reliable and sustainable food supply for Hawai’i Island, the supporting issues of  enough land and water to feed ourselves must also be considered and addressed.

But, first, what do we mean when we say “feed ourselves?” By some estimates, Hawai’i currently imports 90 percent of our food, but exports 80 percent of our agricultural production. Can we re-balance those numbers, and produce food supplies locally and in sufficient quantities to feed all of Hawai’i Island.?

“Step inside a Safeway and see what a supermarket really sells,” says Richard Ha of Hamakua Springs Country Farms. “Most of it is some sort of processed food. It’s dried or frozen, made or manufactured somewhere else. If you look at the produce department as a percentage of the entire store, it’s not very large.”

Most of what’s in that supermarket will never be replaced by Hawai’i products, even the basic food stuffs. No one expects that Hawaii farmers will ever produce the wheat, corn and rice that make up so much of our locally consumed calories.

Ha suggests “feeding ourselves,” really means for Hawai’i residents, fresh produce and a few value-added products – and that’s a smaller overall task by both scope and definition; for  Hawai’i Island residents, local farmers already produce relatively high percentages of the fruits and vegetables that are consumed locally…

Producing an essential supply of food for Hawaii’s residents, and more specifically on Hawai’i Island, also presents a number of the challenges related to our legacy grid dependency in achieving energy self-sufficiency, and  locally produce clean energy in an environment of newly available and game-changing energy technology now available to Hawai’i.

ENERGY PREPAREDNESS – Experts will address the questions and opportunities in creating greater resiliency for our island community in face of new challenges from climate change impacts and potential global disruptions of an external supply-chain in which Hawai’i is all too dependent.

Hawaii Microgird-2Hurricane imagePresenters representing the local island agricultural community experience will speak on the progress of of Hawai’i Island’s agricultural community’s transition to sustainable farming practices as a pathway to self-sufficiency.

The life-disrupting events recently experienced in Puerto Rico and other island states are a wake up call for island residents.  With supercharged storms fueled by global warming become increasingly the norm, diversifying and distributing power generation across the island, and integrating these robust power options into the grid is in everyone’s interest.

Contemplating the massive size of Hurricane Sandy, the Weather Underground’s Jeff Masters wrote, “We have pushed our climate system to a fundamentally new, higher-energy state where more heat and moisture is available to power stronger storms, and we should be concerned about the possibility that Hurricane Sandy’s freak size and power were partially due to human-caused climate change.”

Look no farther than Kauai as an example of how one island has re-engineered their critical services of power and water for today’s new weather and climate reality.  

Kauai Island’s KIUC electric utility cooperative’s transition to Solar+Wind+ Batteries holds the promise of greater reliability, lower operating costs, and cheaper clean energy for consumers. KIUC also represents Hawaii’s first island community on its way to 100% power self-sufficiency, with the added community bonus of producing Zero emissions and pollutants going into the local environment from power plants.

Kauai’s Tesla system is still reliant on power lines for delivering power to local communities and devices, and may be subject to natural disaster impacts, but less so than other Hawai’i utility operations which remain primarily dependent on imported fossil fuels and a fragile supply-chain to generate power for the communities they serve. In Puerto Rico, post hurricane results indicated less than 5% of solar plant installations were damaged, while some fossil fuel power plants and wind farms suffered higher losses and a longer recovery time frame.

Tesla is currently shipping Powerwalls (Tesla’s battery pack) to Puerto Rico businesses, hospitals, and homeowners, and with rooftop solar installations in place or added that can connect to the Tesla battery packs and not to the grid, providing independent and reliable 24×7 power in record service activation times, providing power as needed, and future reliability from emergency power disruptions, regardless of the operating state of the grid.

Microgrids provide community local power solutions that can be both connected to and independent of the gridproviding the maximum in power reliability during emergencies and natural disaster events. Mircogrids have proven their reliability, cost and operating efficiency, and have proven to be far more resilient to major weather events than a conventional utility grid service.  24×7 solar + storage, wind, and other zero emissions options (customer and utility based) represent far preferable environmentally compatible options to the utility status-quo.

Sunrun CEO Lynn Jurich, “Rooftop solar paired with batteries is a scale-able, cost-effective option and capable of strengthening electric grids worldwide, especially in remote island regions.”

Sunrun chairman Edward Fenster,  “We build solar panels to withstand 150-mile-an-hour winds — if the roof stays on your house, the solar panels stay on your roof…and batteries are real-life safety equipment. From a broad perspective, solar and storage can strengthen grids everywhere.”

For more information, see “Subject Support Files” for this forum:


This forum took place on November 16, 2017, at 6pm at West Hawai'i Civic Center, Council Chambers.

To learn more about each Forum featured speaker, click onto the presenter's name listed below their picture.

This event was moderated by:

Pete Hoffmann
Community Enterprises

The event's featured speakers were:

Diane L. Ley
Department of Research and Development, County of Hawai`i
Jose Dizon
Paniolo Power
Jay Ignacio
President of Hawaii Electric Light Co. (HELCO)
Nicole Milne, Ph.D.
Kohala Center
Talmadge Magno
Civil Defense Agency, County of Hawaii

Speaker Presentation Materials

The presenters have graciously allowed us to post their presentation notes.

Subject Support Materials

Please see support material for this subject Forum.

Forum Session Video

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