Being Ready For The Next Big One

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - October 25, 2006
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I don’t get it. All that outrage over what amounted to one day of inconvenience. Folks, we had a 6.7 Richter Scale earthquake! That is a major seismic event. And some are complaining because we were out of power for one day?

Think about it. No one died. We avoided chaos. I think we need some perspective.

Full disclosure first. I am paid to represent the Hawaiian Electric Co. campaign for renewable energy options. My job is not to glorify HECO, but to help make people aware of alternatives to fossil fuel for the generation of electricity. I agreed to participate because I believe these are critically important issues for our state. We need to wean ourselves off imported oil, because we and our children will pay a heavy price if we don’t. The commitment campaign is one way to get people moving in the right direction and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Now realistically, having more renewable sources of energy would not have made a difference in Sunday’s outage. But it’s still something we absolutely must work toward. Because if nothing else, what the earthquake did for us was to focus our attention on just how important electricity is to our everyday lives.

That said, the views I am expressing here are my own.

We need to get a grip. We tend to be spoiled brats and whiners. And like children, many of us are totally unprepared to handle a situation outside our comfort zone. I am not talking about those who require electricity to stay alive - like patients in hospitals or nursing homes who have specific needs. Thanks to backup generators, evacuations and the quick work of their caregivers, they were kept safe. I’m not talking about those on the Big Island who experienced the severest shock of the quake. The injuries, the damage to property and the destruction of roads and infrastructure are serious problems for that community.

When I say spoiled, I am talking about folks who just can’t stand to be deprived of TVs and computers. They cannot imagine what they’ll do to while away the long and boring hours. What? Read a book? No way.

We forget that in other parts of the world earthquakes have demolished cities, killed thousands of people and thrown families onto the streets where many still struggle to survive.

We forget that we hear news stories out of places like Buffalo,N.Y., where a vicious storm knocked out power to thousands - some estimate hundreds of thousands - of homes, and their outage lasted over a week!

Most of us got a good shaking, but afterward we still had clean water and a roof over our heads. We had all day to dig out radios, candles, flashlights and the hibachi or gas grill. We had food in our pantries, not to mention in our fridges and freezers, although we tried not to open them for fear of letting out the cold.

A lot of you rose to the occasion. You adapted. At my home we played board games and chess and we read a lot. I saw a family down the street running out of their house to play a game of basketball - mom, dad and three kids all having fun together. A friend told me of her adventure in Chinatown, standing in a long line of people all hoping to snatch up roast duck and char siu before the vendor ran out of food.

Come to think of it, a lot of us did pretty well. The reality is everyone I know coped with a bad situation and ended up having a surprisingly pleasant day. After a brief period of adjustment, people actually appreciated the peace and quiet that made Sunday a true day of rest.

The truth is, mistakes were made. We still don’t have all the facts, but we do know at this point that communication from HECO to the public and even within its own departments should have been better.

But there were also good decisions made that day that probably spared us from what could have been an even more prolonged and painful outage.

All of that will be thoroughly aired, investigated and eventually will lead, we hope, to improvements in the system. We can count that as a good thing.

But there’s another truth that we saw at work that day. And that is, we are resilient. We can make do in a pinch, but we could and should be tougher, stronger and more prepared than we are. Our earthquake was a wake-up call. Stop procrastinating and get ready for the next time disaster strikes! We may not get off so easy next time.

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