Ask An Expert: How Does Our City Prepare For Hurricane Season?

A week after Hiro Toiya, 38, moved to New Orleans for graduate school, Hurricane Katrina struck. He delayed starting school to volunteer at a shelter in Houston and to conduct health screenings at the Astrodome. The Atlanta native decided to study emergency management, and is now the director of the city’s Department of Emergency Management, where he oversees recovery and planning efforts to make O‘ahu a more resilient, safer place to live.


Hurricane Katrina really changed the course of my life.


When I evacuated to Houston, I stayed with a couple who posted on Craigslist that they were willing to take in evacuees. What really struck me along the way was the kindness of people.


I felt at the time that [volunteering] was a better learning opportunity than anything else I could do in school.


When we’re talking about preparedness, there are several components. There are investments we can make in training, equipment, planning to enhance our ability to respond. We can also do some planning ahead of time on how we would recover after a disaster.


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Then there’s mitigation—doing things now to reduce the long-term vulnerability to disasters. That could include structural things like policy changes, zoning or building code changes. According to some recent studies, every dollar invested in mitigation can save up to $8 in response and recovery.


We had 200 city employees mobilized to assist in shelter operations [during Hurricane Lane]. The staffing requirements for shelters were so great. We need to continue our efforts to train our employees and work with all of our partners to recruit volunteers.


“In some cases, good isn’t good enough. We need to be really good, excellent at what we do.”


We encourage everyone to have a 14-day [food] supply. I used to rotate my stock every six months at the beginning and end of hurricane season. I recently switched to these shelf-stable emergency food bars [that last for five years, from Amazon].


You don’t have to buy a 14-day supply all at once. Buy a can of Spam here and there or an extra jar of peanut butter when it’s on sale.


I used to be a runner. I finished the 2013 Boston Marathon … but of course, we all know what happened. I was in a hotel room a few blocks from the finish line when I heard a boom go off.


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It’s really changed how we look at large gatherings like the Honolulu Marathon.


We’re lucky to be living in Hawai‘i. [But] we have to take every opportunity we have during the blue-sky days to plan.


Hurricane season starts June 1. Download the city’s app,, to stay informed about emergency weather updates and more.


Read more stories by Jayna Omaye