School may be pau for now, but the students, teachers and leaders of schools in the Ka‘u-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area belong to the Puna community and we’re all staying vigilant during this remarkable new eruption at Kilauea.
First, I’d like to take a moment to extend my heartfelt aloha and mahalo to our school staff and network of supporters for their work to create stability for as many of our Puna families as possible through the end of the school year. They’ve supported the families who have lost homes, initiated emergency protocols during school hours, cleaned and re-cleaned facilities that have been coated in ash, provided physical and mental health services, folded the eruption into their lessons, and gone above and beyond to be there for one another.
I am truly grateful that so many have pulled together in the face of this event, because we are stronger together. With Kapoho Bay and nearby homes now covered by lava, we have many more displaced families who will need our help. We will need our collective strength.
As a reminder, Puna residents and others can get the latest information about the eruption and its effects in person by attending weekly community meetings Tuesdays at 5 p.m. at the Pahoa High School cafeteria. These meetings are especially important for displaced families who need to access support services.
Daily briefings are posted on the Hawaii Civil Defense site: http://www.hawaiicounty.gov/active-alerts, and the Red Cross has valuable disaster management and emotional care resources here: http://bit.ly/volcanosafety.
As the complex area superintendent, my team and I have been preparing for the new school year, which begins on July 31 for teachers and Aug. 6 for students (check with your school for its official start date). The summer break goes by quickly, and this eruption event may stretch into the new school year.
We are working with our state offices on contingency plans for staffing, health services, facilities, transportation and more to ensure we’re prepared for direct and indirect fallout of this event.
Physical safety of students and staff is of top importance. All schools conduct emergency drills annually. During this event, different schools have initiated the following emergency protocols in response, outlined below, depending on their proximity. In preparation for next school year, I recommend students and families review our information about all emergency drills on the Hawaii DOE website, HawaiiPublicSchools.org, which include:
• Shelter in place: The most common protocol involves shuttering doors and windows to classrooms and buildings to keep out fumes and/or ash.
• Earthquake: The protocol is to drop, cover (under desks or other stable structures) and hold on until the shaking stops. Earthquakes occur without any warning, so it’s important not try to move or run, but to immediately protect yourself as best as possible where you are.
• Tsunami: Schools that are in inundation zones should initiate this protocol should another major quake occur, such as the 6.9 quake that hit on May 4, or when the tsunami warning sirens sound.
In addition, I recommend all non-impacted families heed the county’s call to be prepared for emergencies at home. Information is available on the county’s civil defense website: http://www.hawaiicounty.gov/civil-defense.
I’m encouraged and buoyed by the spirit and resilience of our community. Although this event has brought destruction on a scale not seen here in decades, we respect Kilauea, we respect the process that brings growth and renewal of the land, and we will continue to serve our keiki and communities.
Chad Farias is the Kau-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area superintendent.