Are You Prepared?

American Red Cross Kaua'i chapter director Laura Burman stresses the importance of communication during a disaster, and urges residents to purchase a solar-powered or battery-operated radio. Coco Zickos photos

Hurricane season is upon us, and as the newly appointed director of the American Red Cross Kaua’i chapter, Laura Burman will do everything to help in case of a disaster, but she urges all Kaua’i residents to have a plan and be prepared for the worst

American Red Cross Kaua’i chapter director Laura Burman is committed to the safety and well-being of all Kaua’i residents in times of crisis

Hurricane season officially kicks off June 1.

Are you prepared?

If not, you should be, says newly appointed director of American Red Cross, Kaua’i chapter, Laura Burman, who landed the position six months ago. Every household should, at the very least, be equipped with water – one gallon per person each day for one week is recommended.

“Logistically, located here in the Pacific, it’s going to take longer to get relief supplies in, and the better prepared our community is, the more sustainable we’ll be; the more resilient we’ll be,” says Burman, who was a volunteer instructor for American Red Cross for 15 years before being hired by the nonprofit.

Having a hurricane “goto” box filled with supplies such as nonperishable food and batteries also is essential.

“Not that we’re lucky, but in a way, since so many in our community are long-term residents and have been through Hurricanes Iwa and Iniki, they’ve been able to prepare,” says Burman, whose husband, Matthew, is a Kaua’i Fire Department ocean safety officer.

Still, supplies such as food and water need to be refreshed, and making a mad dash to stores at the last minute is not advised.

Burman consults a Hawaii tsunami chart

“If you wait, and you and the other 60,000 residents and 20,000 visitors on the island are running to the store at that time, there’s not going to be enough products,” Burman says.

Whenever a tropical storm warning is issued for the island, merchandise such as plywood and water are vulnerable to shortages.

“If people don’t already have it, there’s not going to be enough for everybody,” she warns.

In addition, waiting until the last minute to create a disaster supply kit is not as financially feasible.

“It’s not as much of a strain if it’s something you’re building,” she says.

Having some form of communication such as a solar-powered or battery-operated radio also is valuable. And forming a communication plan with friends and family is vital, especially in assisting emergency personnel like Burman.

“We’ve known in the last two tsunamis that our phone lines are going down. What’s happening is there’s a lot of low-level communication happening that could be cleaned up,” she explains. “We’re using the same phones as you are, so when a disaster is coming we need to be able to contact all of our emergency services.”

Rather than calling everyone, make a plan to contact one person off-island who will, in turn, be in charge of informing others. And devise a plan where youths can safely relocate in emergency situations.

Even though hurricane season ends Nov. 30, measures like this should always be anticipated because the island’s other natural vulnerability – tsunamis – can strike at any time. Furthermore, hurricanes can be predicted about two weeks in advance, while tsunamis don’t provide the same luxury.

Red Cross volunteers take inventory of disaster relief trailer supplies. Photos courtesy Laura Burman

“They can be something like we experienced with the recent Japan earthquake where we’ve got a three-to five-hour window of something coming. Or it could be something that happens on the Big Island, whether it’s an earthquake, volcanic eruption or mud-slide, where we’d have about 20 minutes or less to evacuate,” says Burman, who formerly served as the director for Kaua’i Team Challenge.

But no matter what, don’t be complacent, because when civil defense issues a warning, it means there is a serious threat to the island.

“It’s better to be inconvenienced for an evening and alive the next day,” says Burman.

The Japan earthquake did contribute to some $60,000 worth of damage on the island and around $31 million throughout the state. Even though the American Red Cross is not activated until a disaster has actually hit, Burman was still hard at work that evening and volunteers were pre-stationed across the island.

In times of crisis, the state chapter deploys American Red Cross volunteers to the island, as well as volunteers with extensive training from the Red Cross national chapter, helping to provide food, shelter and clothing.

Currently, there are 17 American Red Cross volunteers from Hawaii helping the more than 100 counties across five states on the Mainland affected by tornadoes and flooding. Three of those volunteers are from Kaua’i: Patty Kaliher, and James and Patricia Gentle.

Not only are the 65 trained volunteers on Kaua’i able to assist the island and other areas in emergencies, about half of them provide educational support for the community. Classes such as water safety, first aid and CPR are offered year-round.

Knowing how to save a life is something that can be used throughout one’s life.

“The more we know, the better educated we are, the better we are prepared,” says Burman.

Helping save lives as a lifeguard since the age of 15, she grew up in Northern California and moved to Kaua’i in 2005.

Burman, whose grandmother was an American Red Cross nurse, has always been an advocate for the organization.

“The Red Cross is in my blood,” she says.

Steve Soltysik, 2010 volunteer of the year, has been active with the Red Cross for decades

With a bachelor’s degree in business and marketing and a master’s degree in physical education, she is one of only two employees at the Kaua’i chapter, the other is training and preparedness specialist Maricris Jacinto.

The nonprofit has been in existence for more than 125 years, and started by serving as a neutral entity during wartime, providing aid to soldiers on the battlefields. The American Red Cross has been in Hawaii for 93 years.

The Kaua’i chapter has already provided some $10,000 to four families on-island whose homes were destroyed by fires this year.

The annual budget for the organization on-island is $160,000, but only 8 percent of donation-based income is used for administrative purposes.

Dealing with finances isn’t the most difficult aspect of Burman’s job.

“The most challenging thing is being able to maintain an active volunteer pool in times when disaster isn’t present,” she says. “I strongly feel we should serve our community in some form. Your community is here for you. The more you give of yourself and the more that you provide service to the community, the more you’ll be supported by that community.”

Kamaaina seem to always pull through, however.

The most memorable experience for Burman thus far was Hats Off, the annual fundraiser held in April. It took an enormous amount of support from the community to collect donations.

“I stood there and watched all these people, some are Red Cross volunteers, but others were just in service to their community who came out to support an organization. It was so amazing, I started to cry,” she recalls.

Serving Kaua’i has been an especially rewarding experience for Burman because everyone is a neighbor and is, in some way, connected to the organization.

“The Red Cross is in all of us,” she says.

Visit for more information, and go to for hurricane information.

Disaster Supply Kit Checklist

* Three- to seven-day supply of nonperishable food and manual can opener
* Seven-day supply of water (one gallon per person each day)
* Portable, battery powered or solar-powered radio or television and extra batteries
* Flashlight and extra batteries
* First aid kit and manual
* Sanitation and hygiene items (hand sanitizer, moist towelettes and toilet paper)
* Matches in waterproof container
* Whistle
* Extra clothing and blankets
* Kitchen accessories and cooking utensils
* Photocopies of identification and credit cards
* Cash and coins
* Extra set of car keys
* Special needs items such as prescription medications, eyeglasses, contact lens solution and hearing aid batteries.
* Items for infants such as formula, diapers, bottles and pacifiers
* Tools, pet supplies, a map of the local area and other items to meet your unique family needs