Hawaii National Guard supports Big Island relief efforts after Hurricane IsellePosted on Sep 9, 2014 in FY2014, In The News
August 16, 2014 – Big Island, Hawaii – Getting to work on time can be stressful. Usually there is no valid explanation to excuse tardiness to military duty. One Airman with the Hawaii Air National Guard’s 291st Combat Communications Squadron found himself with a rare, valid excuse when he was unable to report for duty on time.
SMSgt Makani Miller had been tasked to support the Hilo Emergency Operation Center (EOC), activated in response to Hurricane Iselle and Hurricane Julio heading towards Hawaii. On the day of the storm Miller couldn’t report to the EOC because wind gusts from the storm had caused huge trees to fall around the property surrounding his house.
At first light after the storm passed, SMSgt Miller enlisted the aid of his family and neighbors. Together they cleared the driveway with chain saws; enough to allow him to depart for work. In fact, the Miller family all reported for active duty with the Hawaii National Guard. Spouse, Technical Sergeant Rita Miller and son, Airman First Class Kawika Miller, are also assigned to the 291st Combat Communications Squadron on the Island of Hawaii.
While this was the first time SMSgt Miller had to chain saw his way to work, this was not the first time that he had reported to the Hilo EOC. “In June, we had participated in the State Emergency Response exercise, ‘Makani Pahili’. It was a good opportunity for us to practice what we are doing right now.” said Miller.
“This storm was an eye opener for us. The Hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm and the second Hurricane ended up going north of the island chain.” said Miller. “We will take lessons learned from this and incorporate them into our updated state disaster response plans.”
About 180 Hawaii National Guardsmen were called to some kind of active duty status in support of storm relief efforts.
The Hawaii National Guard stood up a Joint Task Force Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the Army Training Facility in Hilo. This ECO provided command and control for debris clearing teams, damage assessment teams, and presence patrols at Disaster Recovery Assistance Centers and throughout the Puna district. The JTF Hawaii also coordinated the delivery of 55,000 pounds of ice to the Hawaiian Paradise Park, Hawaiian Beaches, Leilani Estates and Nanawale community centers.
The ice and additional equipment for disaster relief were flown in from Oahu to Hawaii by a Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam C-17.
“The objective was to get the Guard out to the hard hit areas first and assist with debris clearing.” said Colonel Moses Kaoiwi, JTF Hawaii commander. “Clearing the roads allows for the essential services to get in the areas that require support.”
Hawaii Army National Guard Sergeant First Class Ryan Taniguchi, lead for the debris clearing team had his soldiers working one hour rotations cutting away at fallen trees that were restricting movement in the Nanawale area.
“These soldiers just got back from a deployment and some of them were on leave when the storm hit but they jumped at the chance to volunteer.” said Taniguchi. “Soldiers showed up with their own chain saws; some with two or three that they had borrowed from other family members.”
The Hawaii National Guard was also tasked to assist with damage assessment for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. Team members were trained by the Mississippi and Hawaii Emergency Management Agency on collecting data using the Mobile Emergency Response and Command Interface (MERCI) system.
The MERCI system allows responders to collect multiple data types (text, photo, and video) and securely upload the information to the MERCI server where data can be analyzed real-time at the emergency operations center (EOC).
“Our Guard is well suited to interact with the public.” said Col. Moses Kauiwi. “We are dealing one-on-one with the community members. Guardsmen are a part of that community. There is a certain comfort level with recognizing your neighbor, who just happens to be wearing a uniform. We are able to get accurate information from the people about how they feel and the issues they are facing.”
National Guard service members were posted at the local community centers, Disaster Recovery Assistance Centers, and patrolled neighborhoods around the clock by Humvee in order to deter any criminal activity.
Kauiwi went on to say, “Chances are, if you are from Hawaii you will know one of the National Guard service members patrolling the neighborhood. You know that we are there to protect and serve.”
Col Kauiwi’s son, Army Guard Specialist Joshua Kauiwi was also on active duty to support the storm relief efforts; supporting the Joint Operation Center situated on Oahu.
County of Hawaii, Mayor Billy Kenoi spoke to the Hilo Emergency Operation Center personnel. “The initial priority was maximum response, maximum resources. We wanted to over-saturate the area with support services.” said Mayor Kenoi. “Nobody should feel like they are on their own.”
The Mayor discussed the recovery transition phase and his objective of quickly getting some normalcy back to the effected areas.
“I have witnessed the deepest sense of the best of humanity on this island and from around the State.” said Mayor Kenoi. “The positive spin of this storm is that it is good practice for our Hurricane Season.”