Resilience & Disaster Management
By 2030, to withstand and recover from acute physical shocks and chronic stresses by reducing vulnerability, building resilience, and increasing adaptive capacity.
Hawai‘i is vulnerable to climate-related severe weather events and prolonged hazards, including natural disasters, sea-level rise, wildfires and increased flooding, the impact of which is aggravated in communities with aging infrastructure. At the same time, Hawai’i is also financially vulnerable to catastrophic natural disasters, relying on federal post-disaster funding in the event of a disaster. For example, a single category 4 hurricane making landfall in Waikīkī could result in an estimated $30 billion in direct economic losses (Sea-Level Rise Coastal Inundation Risk and Vulnerability Assessment for Honolulu). As a result, there is increasing interest in leveraging private sector investment and reinsurance tools to offset financial risks and better plan for future events. An effective risk management strategy requires building community resilience, increasing public understanding of the impact of both acute shocks and stressors, and providing information on shelter provisions. There are opportunities to build resilience through integrated and cross-sector statewide community resilience plans, including an emphasis on public education.
Social Vulnerability Index
There are various factors that can hinder a community’s ability to avert loss of life and financial damages in the event of a disaster, such as a hurricane, tsunami, chemical spill or biological outbreak. Social conditions that increase a community’s vulnerability include high poverty, lack of vehicle access, and crowded housing, which all make evacuation more difficult in emergencies (Flanagan et al, 2011). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) as a tool for community leaders and emergency management officials to assess vulnerability of every US Census tract based on 15 social factors. These factors generate a ranking for each Census tract as a percentile with comparison among all tracts nationally. The values are expressed on a range from 0 to 1 (with 0 representing the least vulnerable and 1 representing the most vulnerable). The comparative ranking among all US census blocks is expressed on the dashboard as an average index for each county as well as the statewide average. However, since the index is a comparative ranking, vulnerability is measured relative to all Census blocks and therefore increased vulnerability may not be observable if all US Census blocks reflect similar vulnerability increases.
Figure 1: This graph illustrates the statewide community vulnerability for 2000, 2010 and 2014 based on the Social Vulnerability Index. This includes overall rankings and all four vulnerability types. The values are expressed on a range from 0 to 1, with 0 representing the least vulnerable and 1 representing the most vulnerable. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Figure 2: This graph illustrates the overall social vulnerability for each of the four counties from 2000, 2010 and 2014. The values are expressed on a range from 0 to 1 (with 0 representing the least vulnerable and 1 representing the most vulnerable). Kaua‘i has the largest decrease in vulnerability due to shifts in household composition and disability variables. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Figure 3: This graph illustrates the social vulnerability for each of the four counties based on the four category types. The values are expressed on a range from 0 to 1, with 0 representing the least vulnerable and 1 representing the most vulnerable.
(Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Figure 4: This map illustrates the range of social vulnerability by Census tract for the state of Hawai‘i. Areas in blue note the most socially vulnerable population, and therefore least resilient to hazards. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Figure 5: This map illustrates the range of social vulnerability by Census tract for Honolulu County. Areas in blue note the most socially vulnerable population, and therefore least resilient to hazards. (Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Sea Level Rise
As an island state, sea level rise is a critical variable in the long term resiliency of Hawai‘i’s communities. The vast majority of communities in Hawai‘i are within close proximity to the ocean, underscoring the vulnerability of residents, infrastructure, and other vital resources. Preliminary projections for Honolulu estimate sea level to increase half a foot by 2030 and nearly three feet by the end of the century (Kopp, 2014). In addition to ocean level threats, the impact of groundwater inundation is projected to cause flooding concerns much further inland. Computer modelling for a three-foot sea level rise scenario show flooding hazards for urban Honolulu affecting real estate valued at five billion dollars and additional financial impacts to roadways, infrastructure, and tourism-related industries (Habel et al, 2017). Subsequent flooding from groundwater inundation will result regardless of traditional seawall construction, and therefore adaptation to sea level rise will require innovative solutions and collaborative efforts through engineering and planning (Habel et al, 2017). The Hawaiʻi Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation Commission released a sea level rise report in early 2018 including potential environmental, economic, and social impacts of disasters, detailed below.
Potential Environmental, Economic, and Social Impacts of Disasters
Summary of potential impacts in the SLR-XA with 3.2 feet of sea level rise (chronic flooding) in Hawaiʻi.
Figure 6: The figures above illustrate the potential environmental, economic, and social impacts of sea level rise and chronic flooding. Source: Hawaii Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report, December 2017.
Financial Impact of Disasters
The growing costs of natural disasters are currently being tracked at the national level; the data reflects the increasing number of uninsured losses relative to insured losses, which indicates a market failure and a financial burden on public sector budgets. While no current data exists to track the uninsured losses for the State of Hawai‘i, the trends highlighted below show the impact nationally.
Figure 7: This graph illustrates the financial assistance provided by FEMA to the state of Hawai‘i in millions of dollars for all natural disaster emergency declarations.
Source: Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
Table 1: This table below shows the estimated financial impact for each of the four counties expressed in billions of dollars. The estimates provide the financial burden in the event of a hurricane at the strength level of the two most recent hurricanes. (Source: State of Hawai‘i Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan)
Figure 8: This graph tracks the trends of US economic losses in billions of dollars expressed annually (Source: Swiss Re)
Figure 9: The bar graph illustrates the number of major disaster and other emergencies declared to FEMA statewide over the period of 2005-2017. (Source: FEMA)
National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Community Rating System
Volcanic tropical islands can be especially vulnerable to flooding due their unique topography of steep slopes and climate, causing flashy streams during heavy rain events (Ramirez, 2012). As a result, a flood mitigation strategy is crucial to reducing vulnerability. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) offers the Community Rating System (CRS) as a voluntary program to reduce flood damage and encourage floodplain management activities to exceed NFIP standards. Communities that implement local mitigation and floodplain management and outreach activities, receive discounted flood insurance premium rates. This is designed to reward community action to encourage a comprehensive approach to floodplain management that reduces flood damage (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
The rating system is based on a scale of 9 to 1, with 1 representing the optimal community rating. The system determines the reduction in flood insurance premium for residents within a community. As a community pursues additional mitigation activities, points are accrued based on four categories: Public Information, Mapping and Regulations, Flood Damage Reduction, Warning and Response. Currently only Hawai’i County and Maui County participate in the program (Federal Emergency Management Agency).
Figure 10: Demonstrates current Community Rating System scores for the two participating counties. The CRS is based on a scale of 1-9 with 1 indicating the highest rating. Note: Hawai‘i County and Maui County are currently the only participating counties.
Source: FEMA National Flood Insurance Program
Emergency Shelters and Services
Available shelter spaces across the state are limited and, according to the Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan, lacks thousands of suitable shelters and provisions in the event of high winds or hurricane. For example, the City and County of Honolulu currently has adequate hurricane shelter provisions for about 30% of the population (HIEMA).
The year 2018 marked the beginning of Hawaiʻi Island's volcanic eruption. The USGS map displayed to the right provides a guide to the active and non-active fissures and accessible roads and residencies in lieu of the recent natural disaster.
Source: United States Geological Survey (USGS), 2018
Learn More and Make a Difference
What You Can Do
- The Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency provides multiple tools for emergency planning and preparation. Resources include evacuation plans, shelter guides and other helpful tips. Learn more through the following links:
- Get Ready Hawai‘i offers helpful information on tips by county. Sign up for notifications to keep your family informed:
- NOAA provides information on the specific impacts projected for Hawai‘i and Pacific Islands with additional resources in the US Climate Resilience Toolkit.
- To identify tsunami evacuation zones on Oahu look at this map
- For more information on the Social Vulnerability Index, follow
- Sea Level Rise Vulnerability and Adaptation Report provides a statewide assessment of Hawaii’s vulnerability to sea level rise and recommendations to reduce exposure and sensitivity to sea level rise and increase capacity to adapt
- To explore more information on the Hawai‘i’s statewide
multi-hazard mitigation plan, follow the link to read the full report
- National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Community Rating System includes more information on strategies for participating counties to improve their rating and subsequent discounts on insurance premiums
- To learn more on the location of different shelter
types, use these mapping tools to explore your local community