Hawaii lawmakers recommend disaster response changes

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(The Center Square) – A working group of Hawaii lawmakers examining the state’s food and supply response to the Lahaina wildfires recommends upgrades to the state’s distribution management plan.

The Food, Water and Other Supplies working group meets Wednesday to discuss a draft report based on surveys of residents and government officials and research. The group is one of six studying the state’s response to the fires in West Maui that devastated Lahaina.

One of the top obstacles to the Lahaina fire response was the lack of a comprehensive distribution plan for supplies.

“This absence can lead to inefficiencies in disaster response, potential misallocation of resources, and a lack of transparency in decision-making processes,” they said.

Lawmakers said a state law creating a plan overseen by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency would eliminate the need for board meetings, but an advisory board would allow for more feedback.

The working group said more funding for food bank reserves that includes food for pets. The state’s food bank, which usually has about three weeks of food on hand, was already low when the fire broke out in August, the draft report said.

Storage and funding are the current challenges, the group said.

“The Hawaii Food Bank’s current warehouses on Oahu and Kauai are maxed out in terms of storage capacity, and the Oahu facility is also impacted by the tides (the road is covered with water every time the tide goes above 1.6 feet),” the report said. “There is a plan to build a new facility with significantly expanded storage capacity, and the Hawaii Food Bank is also looking at ways to store food in more vulnerable communities that are at risk of being cut off in a natural disaster.”

Other recommendations to address food challenges are a “right to garden” law that allows residents to grow their food and guidelines for donating hot food.

Lawmakers should also consider a law allowing residents to get medication in disasters.

“We suggest converting the current pharmacy and medication authorization issued under the Governor’s Emergency Proclamation into a statute,” the group said. “In emergencies, this would enable pharmacies to refill prescriptions without a doctor’s authorization, ensuring uninterrupted medication access for patients.”

Gov. Josh Green on Monday extended the emergency proclamation for Maui through Jan. 5, 2024.

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