Earthquake in Hawaii Shows We Are Still Not Prepared for a Disaster

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Earthquake in Hawaii Shows We Are Still Not Prepared for a Disaster

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I will always remember the exact time! It was 7:07 a.m. when the earthquake struck. That was the time on the clock, and it will stay in my mind forever.

It's not every day that you get to experience an earthquake. When you do, you don't forget where or when it happened or how you felt at the time.

My first thought was to move to somewhere safe while calling for my wife to make sure she was OK. She was. Our first shared thought after that was wondering if a tsunami would follow.

We were only a few yards away from a narrow strip of beach and the Pacific Ocean on the Hawaiian island of Maui. It was Sunday, Oct. 15, and the 50th state had just been struck by the third worst earthquake in its history, 6.7 on the Richter scale.

Remembering the devastation of the tsunami in December 2004, naturally this was a concern. We weren't the only ones concerned. Dozens of people came out of their accommodations looking out to sea, trying to decide what to do.

When the quake struck, the power went off. That meant there was no television so we could not turn on the news to see what was happening. The only radio station I could find on my battery-operated radio was broadcasting prerecorded rock music from the big island and didn't seem inclined to give us much news. We were in the dark—relying on secondhand reports that might only be rumor!

We did hear that the power was off all over the island. It would be five hours before power would be restored to our hotel. Five hours! When the power goes off in Ghana, a developing country, good hotels switch to their own generators within a couple of minutes. Clearly, hotels on Maui were unprepared for an earthquake.

Our first challenge was finding a drugstore. I had spent a few hours the previous day in the island hospital and urgently needed to fill a prescription for some painkillers. The power was off, so the drugstore was closed. Without computers, prescriptions couldn't be filled. One lady was hysterical—without his medicine, her husband would soon die!

I reflected on the fact that, 30 years ago, we didn't need a computer to fill a prescription. It also struck me that more than five years after Sept. 11th and one year after Hurricane Katrina, we are still not prepared for a disaster!

The airlines were thrown into chaos for a couple of days. Two of the biggest carriers canceled all flights, leaving thousands of people unable to catch their scheduled flights home. No compensation was offered, but when we missed our flights due to my hospital stay, we had to pay more for a single fare home than we had paid for our original round-trip fare.

One visitor, stranded at Honolulu's airport, quoted in the following day's USA Today, described Hawaii as "an oxymoron. It's paradise, but it's hell." Even the most perfect place can suddenly change when nothing works!

However, nobody was killed and only a handful suffered minor injuries. I can't say it was a disaster—more of an inconvenience really.

But it still brought home how poorly prepared we are for a real disaster, for another Katrina or 9/11 or worse! WNP