Craig Gima
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

A recent AARP survey revealed that most older Americans are likely to be unprepared if a disaster like a wildfire, hurricane or tsunami strikes; many are unfamiliar with apps and technology that can help them prepare and survive a natural disaster.

The online survey of kūpuna 50 and older also revealed a gap between perceptions of disaster preparedness and reality. Nearly 60% of those surveyed said they were confident in their ability to navigate a natural disaster emergency, but less than a third (29%) have created a comprehensive emergency plan.

The results highlight the challenges of getting kūpuna, who are the most likely to die in a natural disaster, to be better prepared to survive. Part of it is human nature. We’re more likely to focus on what’s in front of us – day-to-day living – than on what maybe, possibly, could happen sometime in the future. And solutions aren’t easy. Creating a plan takes effort to plan escape routes, buy and organize supplies and think about different potential situations.

There are apps, like the Red Cross Emergency App (redcross.org/about-us/news-and-events/news/2022/check-out-the-new-and-improved-red-cross-emergency-app.html), and online guides to help us prepare for disasters and get information in a disaster. But the survey shows many kūpuna don’t know about them or how to use them. That means we must do better in teaching kūpuna how to use technology. It also shows that we need analog ways of warning and educating people about emergencies in addition to text alerts and other digital warning systems.

As the Lähainä wildfires showed us, the whole community must pull together in and after a disaster. Government will likely be overwhelmed and will not be able to respond immediately. Your neighbors will be your lifeline.

In Hau‘ula, in northeast Windward O‘ahu, the community knows they will be on their own if they are hit by a hurricane or tsunami. There are no disaster shelters more than 20 miles from Hau‘ula because all the concrete state buildings are in flood zones near the ocean. The fragile, two-lane Kamehameha Highway is likely to be wiped out and state officials have told the community that it may take a month or longer to restore the road.

They aren’t waiting for the government to figure out how to help the community. They’ve come up with their own plan. Hau‘ula hopes to build a disaster resilience hub on high ground on state land in the back of the valley to be a community center/health care center and disaster shelter. The community holds regular disaster preparedness workshops and they’ve identified where vulnerable kupuna live so people can check on them.

AARP Hawai‘i has supported Hau‘ula’s efforts by giving away emergency go-kit backpacks at disaster preparation meetings and funding a walking trail at the base of the resilience hub. AARP also created a Disaster Resilience ToolKit (aarp.org/livable-communities/tool-kits-resources/info-2022/aarp-disaster-resilience-tool-kit.html) with the Federal Emergency Management Agency that explains how other communities can be like Hau‘ula and become more disaster resilient.

If we can all be like Hau‘ula, Hawai‘i’s kūpuna will be better protected in the next disaster.

Craig Gima is communications director at AARP Hawai‘i. He is an award-winning multimedia communicator with more than 30 years of experience. A Honolulu native, Gima spent nearly 19 years at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a variety of reporting, editing and online roles before joining AARP in 2016. Gima graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California.

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