Hawaii's Emergency Preparedness Store

Most people buy cases of Spam and bottles of water at Times and bags of charcoal for their hibachis at Costco, but for those who want to go above and beyond FEMA’s recommendations, there’s a one-stop shop in Waipo that sells everything one needs to endure a disaster, for months.

Photo: David Croxford

Freeze-dried food like this can remain edible for as long as 25 years.
1. Freeze-dried green peas   
2. Cornmeal   
3. Diced carrots  
4. Freeze-dried raspberries  
5. Butter powder  
6. Whole egg powder  
7. Freeze-Dried Peach Slices  
8. Freeze-Dried Celery  
9. Peach Drink Mix

Sturdy 55-gallon water drums. Strawberry flavored, freeze-dried yogurt. Silent, lithium battery-operated generators. Lightweight, 72-hour emergency kits. Your average person doesn’t know much, if anything, about these products, but Pono Cabacungan does. The 27-year-old is the vice president of operations of Be Ready, a store that stocks stuff like this, for the sole purpose of preparing for disasters, both natural and manmade.

In addition to selling survival gear, Cabacungan keeps these items in his own home—he and his siblings were raised in a self-sufficient environment—so he’s a natural at evangelizing disaster preparation. Be Ready is a family-run business with two other stores in California; his parents run the flagship store and his older brother heads the second location. The Cabacungans opened the Waipi‘o store in February 2012.

“Some of my earliest memories are putting together 72-hour kits, putting whistles [in the bags],” he says. “It’s easy for me to be passionate about something I believe in and I’ve seen work.”

Cabacungan says that, while he sees new faces in the store occasionally, Be Ready primarily serves dedicated, prepared-for-anything customers, such as Mormons, self-described preppers, prepared individuals who are ready to endure a disaster long term, even Neighbor Island folks who just want to live off the grid.

“I’d say the majority of people think there’s a specific thing they feel is going to happen,” he says of Be Ready’s customer base. “But Hawaii is so vulnerable to everything, we have earthquakes, tsunamis, and there’s a lot of smaller things, blackouts, trucking or shipping strikes, heavy rains or floods. You can’t have the mentality that [just] one thing can happen.”

Before the inevitable disaster strikes, and Cabacungan says it’s not if, but when, Be Ready can prepare you to survive outdoors. The store stocks comprehensive 72-hour kits, what’s known in the prepper community as bug-out bags, a backpack or duffle containing three days’ worth of supplies for when you have to leave your home quickly. This includes basic first-aid supplies, but also a fire-retardant tent, emergency blankets, goggles, dust filter masks, battery-less flashlights, waterproof matches, a solar-powered radio/cell-phone charger, a 10-foot rope, food bars, water packets and more. Everything is made in the U.S., too, stresses Cabacungan.

While the Honolulu Department of Emergency Management recommends that residents have at least five days’ worth of food and one gallon of water per person, per day, on hand, many people who shop at Be Ready are preparing for much longer spans of time. Instead of cases of Menehune water bottles, think 55-gallon water drums, as well as water treatment and filter systems.

“I’m not trying to scare people, but the reality is, if you don’t have water, you’re dead,” says Cabacungan, explaining that water is priority No. 1. “I want to tell people in an upfront and stern way, but it’s out of love. I won’t tell you something I won’t tell my own family.”

Instead of canned beans or bags of rice—food is priority No. 2—you’ll find large cans of color-coded Thrive brand freeze-dried foods. There’s a variety to choose from, too, including macaroons, shredded cheese, pancakes, brown rice, applesauce, roast beef, cauliflower. Just add water. Unopened, the food lasts for 25 years.

It doesn’t taste half bad either; Cabacungan gives out samples to people before they buy. He isn’t just saving these foods for when disaster strikes: Cabacungan says he mixes them in with his meals and eats the fruits and snacks during hikes and on camping trips.

Be Ready also sells power generators; Cabacungan pushes a lithium battery-operated generator for $1,995. He flips the switch on and it’s almost silent. “If the power is out for x amount of time and then you hear someone with a generator, that’s probably going to attract negative attention,” he says. “[Someone] might do something drastic. Hopefully it doesn’t get to that point, but the reality is, it does get to that point.”

Cabacungan says many customers are gun owners (the store doesn’t sell them). “There are good and bad [things] about them,” he says, adding that he’s never been a fan of them. He says it’s more important to invest in water and food than in stockpiling weapons.

Whether you walk away with a pocket first-aid kit for $6.95 or $500 worth of freeze-dried foods, Cabacungan says his ultimate goal is to educate kamaaina to take action. “We’re very much overdue for a major disaster here in Hawaii,” he says. “Ultimately, I want people to make a choice and move today, because, when the sirens go off, it’s too late.”

For more information, visit bereadyhawaii.com.

More: Meet the Disaster Preppers