HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii county officials evaluated their response to the eruption event of 2018 in an effort to determine what worked and what failed.
No one expected such a disastrous event, and the “After Action Report” shows there were mistakes made.
Using various government, private and non-profit agencies, the study pointed to a chaotic response, lack of preparedness with no coordinated effort plan for mutual aid.
It particularly highlighted that communication between agencies, with the media, and with the public, was a struggle.
The months long eruption event began on May 3, 2018 and the last active lava was reported on the surface on Sept. 4.
During those months, the ground in the lower east rift zone opened creating large cracks. Lava was tossed into the air, then crept over thousands of acres, swallowing roads and more than 700 homes.
“The public need and demand for information during this event was overwhelming. A lot of inaccurate information was presented... by both individuals in the media and by ‘trusted persons" the report pointed out.
State Senator Russell Ruderman, whose district includes Puna, says the county needed to get more information out sooner because residents and the community had a constant appetite and need for answers, "What happened yesterday? Where did the lava flow? Where is it flowing today? Who is in danger? We really had to look to unofficial social media reports to find out those answers. That’s a profound failure.”
The report did applaud weekly community town hall meetings that were scheduled almost immediately after the eruption event began. Also praised, having these meetings at a variety of locations to allow different communities a chance to be briefed.
Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim agrees that more discussion is needed to address the release of information so that false reports aren’t perpetuated on social media.
Also part of the evaluation, that county radios didn’t cover some of the isolated areas in Puna, making emergency response difficult. There were residents who needed help in the danger zone while retrieving items.
Another point highlighted in the report, the shelter set up for evacuees had “security issues” because it wasn’t limited to those displaced.
“I watched it change from lava evacuees to just street people," said Ruderman, "People who used to live on the street in Pahoa and that made it not useful for the lava evacuees.”
Mayor Kim accepts responsibility for that, saying he did not impose stricter admission regulations, “If you start to screen out people, and you got to verify people, you hurt very badly those that we need to shelter right away.”
The report does point out that the hot meals provided at the shelters were valuable for evacuees, crediting non profits like The Salvation Army, and the grassroots effort of volunteers. Pu’uhonua o Puna, a comfort station built on donations became a source of food, clothing and other supplies for residents affected,
No one could have expected a disaster of this magnitude, and the self-evaluation shows there were mistakes given the overwhelming circumstances. But the report also shows there were policies created in a pinch that worked well and can be adopted in future disaster zones.