Action plan to protect students from vog

Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi
Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi
Sharon Beck
Sharon Beck

By Anthony Ferreira

PAHALA (KHNL) - Keeping a child indoors during recess is normally reserved for students who misbehave.

But that's not the case on the Big Island.

Every student is kept inside when the air quality is deemed unhealthy during times of heavy vog.

"When the eruption first happened it was a definite notice in the change of the atmosphere in the air," said Sharon Beck, principal of Kau High and Pahala Elementary.

And life hasn't been the same since on the campus.

There's an important lesson being taught here every day: how to protect yourself from vog.

"It's our children. So we've worked with the Department of Education, from school superintendent down to school principals, and down to representatives at specific schools that are in high threat areas," said Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi.

Leading the way on this campus is principal Sharon Beck.

"We started building partnerships as it was going on with the civil defense, fire department, police, department of health and with them they taught us a lot about vog, what kind of equipment we need to have on campus," said Beck.

That equipment includes this small building, which houses a Department of Health sulfur dioxide and particulate monitoring station.

It feeds SO2 readings not just to state officials, but directly here to the school's staff.

And every day they follow a sulfur dioxide action plan.

It's color coded, beginning with green for "good"...up to maroon, when the air is deemed "hazardous."

"Last school year it reached into the red where it was, and we went into shelter in place," Beck said. "They can't go outside, we keep the doors closed, we have the a/c units on and then we monitor every 15 minutes."

With kilauea producing so much sulfur dioxide just miles away, what's certain is the community here wants to protect its keiki.

The campus also has two safe rooms, which have air conditioning units running at all times.

They also have hepa filters on campus that are able to capture small air particles.