Welcome to the Issue: Bouncing Back

The new way of thinking about disaster preparation.


Published:

A computer model by UH researcher Kwok Fai Cheung showing Honolulu flooded by a category 4 hurricane.

photo: Courtesy Volker Roeber and Kwok Fai Cheung, UH

It’s October, which means Halloween, which also means it’s time for all kinds of thrills and chills. That was our thinking when we decided to make this the Scary Issue. We started off in the mode of disaster movies such as The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, but, when we delved into the realities of what might actually happen if a hurricane or tsunami smashed into the Islands, it became clear that this wasn’t entertaining as much as it was legitimately frightening. A big part of that is the realization that, when it comes down to it, there’s just no way to completely shield ourselves from catastrophe.

As we interviewed the experts whose job it is to think about these kinds of grim futures, we ran across an interesting concept: resilience. The new school of thought for disaster preparation is not to turn a city into a fortress, but instead to make it flexible, so it can absorb shocks or stresses, and then recover.

Karl Kim, a UH professor of urban and regional planning and the executive director of the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center, says, “For a really big event, it’s going to take more than money to fix. It takes organizational capacity, the ability to make decisions quickly. If you look back over the last 10 years, the emphasis was sustainability. Looking forward, the concept is going to be resilience.”

Many cities are already heading in this direction. San Francisco is in the process of enacting the Bay Area Regional Disaster Resilience Initiative; the state of Oregon has drafted its own resilience plan; and after the havoc that Hurricane Sandy wreaked on New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has created the Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency, designed to ready New York City’s infrastructure for the impacts of climate change in the coming years.

How well prepared is Hawaii? Kim says, better than some, but less than many, particularly given our geographic isolation and the huge range of hazards we face. Most of our power plants and job centers are located dangerously close to the shoreline, for example, leaving us with little recourse in the event of inundation. “This is a conversation that needs to start with the Legislature, the various councils, the local decision makers,” Kim says. “This should not be buried with civil defense.”

After putting together our feature on the worst-case scenarios and imagining just how bad things could get, we’re eager to start having that conversation with lawmakers and city planners. Because, as we’ve heard more than once about natural disasters, it’s not a matter of If, but When.

Resiliently yours,

Michael Keany
Managing Editor
 

Did you know? During the 2012 hurricane season, 10 hurricanes, five of them major, spawned in the Pacific. Luckily, none came close to Hawaii.

 

Contributors

Olivier Koning, a graduate of UH Manoa, worked with local architectural firm Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo for 10 years before becoming a monthly contributor to HONOLULU as a freelance photographer. His work has taken him to Cambodia, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, Samoa and the Marshall Islands, but this month, he stayed closer to home: “As a resident of Manoa with a passion for architecture, being invited into these historical homes was a unique experience,” he says of the feature. “A special sense of aloha surrounds these homes.”

 

 

Kelsey Ige is a designer and the art director of the award-winning graphics department at the Waikiki Aquarium. In her spare time, she slips back into moleskin-to-pen tool mode and illustrates “like nobody’s business” for freelance and personal projects. Ige gets inspired by the unique environment and local culture of Hawaii and the way they are communicated to national and international audiences, especially the fusion of Hawaii’s native culture with plantation-immigrant and pidgin culture. She got her BFA in Design at UH Manoa. This month, she created a frightening illustration for our Afterthoughts column.

 

Treena Shapiro has been writing about Hawaii for nearly 15 years, including more than a decade of reporting on education and government for Honolulu’s daily newspapers and wire services. In addition to blogging about real estate for HONOLULU, Shapiro is a producer for Insights on PBS Hawaii and a shameless promoter for her daughter’s band, the Random Weirdos. “My work takes me into many modern residences, so it was refreshing to take a step back to write about historic homes and learn more about old Hawaii,” she says. “I particularly enjoyed seeing how Linda LeGrande salvages bits from other vintage structures and finds new uses for them around her home.”

 

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