In February of last year, a series of extreme winter storms struck Southern California’s mountain communities, burying them under 106 inches of snow and stranding thousands of residents for weeks.
More recently, Maui was struck with one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history, with no warning and no way of escape for hundreds of residents in Lahaina.
During a disaster, local authorities and utility companies are often unprepared to handle extreme weather conditions, downed power lines and the strain on emergency services.
In Lahaina, those who defied a barricade survived and many who didn’t were trapped and burned in their cars with no way of escape.
Those affected by these disasters experienced a lack of water, food and a way to communicate for weeks. Local government was overwhelmed or unable to respond to their needs for an extended time.
The most significant form of help often comes from local residents – many of whom took it upon themselves to do something in the vacuum that immediately follows a disaster.
Kekoa Lansford, who lost his Lahaina home in the Maui fires used his truck to ferry fleeing neighbors to safety. Other survivors set up their own aid network as their trust in government faltered.
FEMA set up aid centers on the other side of Maui, which is ten miles away from where the fires were. Residents are unable to travel because their cars were burned or they have no gas, so native Hawaiians and other residents took matters into their own hands and established distribution hubs much closer to those who were hardest hit by the tragedy.
Many survivors have stated that they received no information about safe evacuation routes during the fire or updates on the status of response efforts. This underscores the need for alternate off-grid communications. The Hawaii Amateur Radio Emergency Service reported that there was a dearth of ham radio operators in the area, which exacerbated the situation. One resident stepped up and made his mobile Starlink system available to survivors.
Even in the best of responses to disasters, help is often too little, too late. We can learn from these disasters by focusing on helping our own communities be better prepared.
Making sure that you and your family are prepared is the first step. Having an ample backup supply of water, food, medications and a way to communicate off-grid can give you peace of mind. This will put you in a position to be able to help others should the need arise.
History has taught us that our best source of help is those who are geographically close by. Building strong communities starts with each one of us. As we reach out and share our knowledge, skills and resources with others, it will help the communities we live in to become stronger and more resilient.
If you are looking to be a part of a network of Americans who work together to become better prepared in their communities, visit American Contingency to learn more.
Photo credit: County of Maui