BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - One year ago this Thursday, Iselle struck Hawai'i Island with force -- and officials say valuable lessons learned in that experience have led to significant improvements to their preparation and response for future storms like Guillermo.
Civil defense radio messages have been broadcasting since last Friday. Officials say the biggest feedback from the community post-Iselle was the desire for as much timely information as possible.
"We have incorporated or integrated the community associations into our response plans better so that we push information to them and they're able to push the information further down into the members of their subdivision so I think everybody has learned a lot of lessons from the last one -- less apathy, more awareness and just paying attention a lot more and being better prepared," explained Hawai'i County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira.
The county is also more equipped -- for the first time ever, ocean safety officials have jet skis to respond to high surf and unpredictable storm conditions, something officials say will definitely save the lives of distressed swimmers and their first responders.
"During Hurricane Iselle we didn't have any rescue water crafts and so our lifeguards had to go and do rescues -- perform rescues -- using just the rescue buoy and swimming out and getting those guys and bringing them back to shore, which is amazing and they performed numerous rescued during that," said Battalion Chief Gerald Kosaki Hawai'i Fire Department.
Storm surge caused significant damage in coastal areas like Kapoho, but the vast majority of the impact from Iselle was caused by falling Albizia trees that trapped some lower Puna residents in their neighborhoods for days.
Part of the lessons learned is keep it clear. Right now crews are out there trimming branches that could affect the roadway system," said Hawai'i County Public Works Director Warren Lee.
Some of the hardest hit areas were without electricity for more than two weeks, but HELCO officials spent $3.2 million in an effort to prevent that from happening again.
"We learned from Iselle that the trees can wreak havoc on our system so we've gone through and spent a lot of resources -- time and effort in either trimming trees or removing trees that are close to our transmission and distribution system, as well as the brush that could cause outages in the event of a storm," said Rhea Lee Moku, HELCO's spokesperson.
While it doesn't appear Guillermo will be anything like Iselle, officials say they'd rather be over cautious than caught unprepared which is why crews spent Tuesday trimming trees, clearing roads, cleaning culverts, checking the dry-wells, and preparing sandbags.