News: Exercise Makani Pahili tests Hawaii's hurricane preparedness.
Story by Staff Sgt. Lee Tucker
OAHU - A Category 4 hurricane with winds exceeding 135 miles per hour and a storm surge of 15 feet swept through the Hawaiian Islands this week causing millions of dollars worth of damage and displaced thousands of residents across the state. It’s only a scenario that emergency responders in Hawaii hope will never happen but, officials want to be as prepared as possible.
State Civil Defense and the Hawaii National Guard are leading the weeklong scenario-driven hurricane preparation exercise known as Makani Pahili, Hawaiian for “Strong Winds,” held this year, June 3 through 8. More than 150 National guardsmen from Hawaii, California, and Nevada are closely working with agencies such as the Honolulu Fire Department, Honolulu Police Department and FEMA. Key exercise objectives are to test disaster preparedness plans, procedures, and communications systems.
“Leveraging mainland capabilities to come and augment us, because we are a small state has been key,” says U.S. Army Col. Ed Toy, director of operations for Military Support. “Having these personnel and agencies integrated, co-located, and communicating coordinating actions is really the recipe for success.”
The exercise is designed to test agencies to their limits and beyond. “Plans look good on paper,” says Officer Robert Jones of Honolulu Police Department’s Major Events Division. “But getting out and practicing ensures we are ready to respond to a variety of scenarios.”
Weather and disaster experts predict that a Category 4 hurricane could cause billions of dollars worth of property damage and hundreds of deaths if it were to zero in on populous areas of Hawaii. The recovery from such a storm could quickly overwhelm local and state resources if not prepared.
“It’s all about readiness,” says Toy. “We’re currently in hurricane season right now, and every hurricane state needs to know where they stand. You’re only as good as last time you trained.”
In one of the exercises scenarios, the Hawaii National Guard’s CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP) team worked to rescue victims from a simulated building collapse. The training provided valuable lessons to the team ensuring they will be ready when there is an actual emergency.
"It's not a matter of if we're going to have the next disaster,” states Capt. Aaron Blanchard, Operations Officer for the CERFP team. “It's when the disaster is going to be and when it comes, hopefully, we're as prepared as we can be.”
To Toy, the purpose of the exercise is much simpler; “At the end of the day it’s about saving lives, you can never get too good at that.”