By Brandon Bosworth, U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii Public Affairs September 15, 2011
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD, Hawaii, Sept. 15, 2011 -- Hurricane season in Hawaii runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, here, is prepared to act in the event a major storm hits the state. This time of year, hurricanes are a particular concern.
The EOC is responsible for responding to major disasters, ranging from natural incidents such as tsunamis and earthquakes, to man-made incidents like a terrorist attack.
According to Joe Barker, installation management emergency officer, the EOC has four priorities in the event of a major incident.
"The command priorities are saving lives, preventing suffering, protecting property and restoring essential services," he said.
Barker stressed the importance of Soldiers and their families preparing for emergencies.
"They need to do three key things," Barker said. "One, make an emergency kit. Two, make a plan about what to do in an emergency. Three, stay informed. (If they) do these three things, they should be fine."
From the EOC command center, Barker and his team of operators can access critical information during a disaster -- from reports of deaths, injuries, power outages and road closures -- as well as maintain communications with local officials and other branches of the military.
"From one room, I can control all Army installations in our jurisdiction," Barker said.
If a situation arises that is serious enough for Hawaii's governor to declare an emergency, the EOC can step in to lend support to the state.
It's been nearly 20 years since Hurricane Iniki struck the islands, and in Barker's words, "we're past due" for a serious storm.
If a hurricane threatens, EOC operators are ready to take to their posts in two hours or less. Key tasks include securing vehicles and equipment, establishing safe havens, filling water containers, and boarding or taping up windows.
Another important job is to keep Soldiers and their families informed.
"We are set up to tell people what they need to know," Barker said.
The EOC works with garrison organizations like Public Affairs and Island Palm Communities to use everything to get vital information out, including Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, an IPC autodial phone system and giant voice speakers spread throughout the installations.
The EOC's work doesn't end after a hurricane or other disaster strikes. In the aftermath, EOC assessment teams are sent out to evaluate damage, clear debris and report any emergencies. Army housing is given special attention, to determine if it is safe for families to return to their homes.
Barker is confident of the EOC's ability to deal with a hurricane.
When Hurricane Felecia hit Oahu in 2009, the EOC response went according to plan.
The EOC also participates in the state's Makani Pahili, Hawaiian for "strong winds," a yearly, joint exercise involving local government and all branches of the armed services here in Hawaii. Key exercise objectives are to test disaster preparedness plans and procedures, test alert procedures and communications systems, and test select safe havens and family assistance centers, at all Army installations in Hawaii.
To learn what to do to prepare for an emergency, visit websites such as ready.gov, www.acsim.army.mil/readyarmy/ or www.garrison.hawaii.army.mil and click on "Emergency Management."