'You might become the first responder’: Officials say hurricane prep isn’t just about emergency kits

'You might become the first responder’: Officials say hurricane prep isn’t just about emergency kits
Hurricane season in the Central Pacific kicks off Saturday. (Image: Gray TV)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Your best source of help in a hurricane could be you.

Emergency preparedness officials say while first responders will be out in force during a storm, they’ll also be over-taxed and it could take time for help to get to you.

That’s why this hurricane season they’re stressing the need to prepare not just physically ― with a 14-day supply kit ― but with education, too.

“It might be a long time before first responders can come in since we have such a large population, so you might become the first responder for your family,” said John Cummings, spokesman for the city Department of Emergency Management.

Hurricane season begins Saturday and lasts through Nov. 30.

The Central Pacific Hurricane Center warns that Hawaii will likely see a busier than normal hurricane season this year. Forecasters are predicting five to eight tropical cyclones will form in the Central Pacific.

This includes hurricanes, tropical storms and tropical depressions. A near-normal season has four to five tropical cyclones, while an above-normal season has six or more.

Jerome Saucier, the observing program leader for the National Weather Service, said people need to begin preparing now.

“A lot of people put off getting their preparedness kits ready, so you should act fast,” Saucier said. “One of the most common shortfalls is realizing the severity of it when outages are concerned.”

This year, Honolulu Emergency Management is partnering with the American Red Cross to provide shelter management training to city employees for the first time.

The four-hour course in basic shelter operation will equip city personnel with the knowledge to set up shelters, sign people in and operate them during a storm.

“We’re training our city employees in disaster training because we want to be able to assist the Red Cross,” Cummings said.

However, Honolulu’s 126 shelters do not accommodate for everyone.

“Our population is so large that we don’t have enough large public buildings for people,” Cummings said. “It’s primarily for people who live in coastal storm surge zones on coastlines or older homes not built to standards.”

For everyone else, shelters are a last resort, Cummings said.

During a storm, Cummings recommends sheltering in place or finding a safe-house outside of a flood zone.

He said bathrooms or walk-in closets without windows are among the best places to take cover, as are interior rooms or hallways. In a home with multiple stories, it is best to stay on the ground floor in the center of the building.

Cummings also recommends following a four-step plan to prepare for the upcoming storms: Having a family plan, preparing a kit that can sustain the number of people in the household for at least 14 days, being informed by staying in tune with weather apps or community resources, and getting trained in CPR and first aid.

“Now is the time to look for options, not when things actually happen,” Cummings said.

“We live such busy lives that we put it off, but we need to change that mindset. On an island, we’re on our own — things won’t be coming in, so we need to make sure we’re prepared.”

During hurricane season, Cummings emphasizes the need for a community to get together and assist their neighbors.

Honolulu Emergency Management provides free training for the Community Emergency Response Team program. The 22-hour course teaches disaster preparedness, disaster medial operations and light search and rescue.

“You have to know how to respond to your family and your community,” Cummings said. “It comes down to a community coming together to help themselves and each other.”

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