Expanding Feedback Opportunities Secures More Public Planning Input: City and County of Honolulu, Hawai‘i


For any plan to work, a “whole community” approach is essential. Hawaii is deeply invested in Aloha ʻĀina (love of the land) and in how to care for and protect the environment. The city’s multi-hazard pre-disaster mitigation plan addresses the various concerns, identifies the risks, and proposes ways to reduce those risks. When key stakeholders are involved, the plan becomes part of the community. Mitigation projects must get the support they need from all sides to move forward.


The city and county of Honolulu updated the hazard mitigation plan by working with:

  • Local, state and federal government officials;
  • Community organizations and agencies; and
  • The public across the island.

Jennifer Walter, Deputy Director of the city and county of Honolulu, Department of Emergency Management, explained that after the 2011 earthquake in Japan, Hawaii looked at worst-case scenarios. Her department created scientific modeling to map inundation from a potential tsunami. These maps were used during community meetings to draw the evacuation lines, including a buffer beyond the inundation zone. Community input helped make sure the lines made sense and did not create any confusion.

In 2019, the city and county of Honolulu, Department of Emergency Management conducted mitigation planning outreach; it used similar outreach methods. However, these meetings were less formal and had more of an “open house” style. Half-day mitigation planning outreach community meetings offered morning refreshments and buffet lunches. These open house meetings had keynote speakers and group breakout rooms. The conference rooms had information booths and outreach tables. Breakout rooms gave the community elders a chance to connect with the younger generation. They also shared mitigation ideas and discuss plan input together.

The mitigation planning outreach team changed its previous messaging to the public. The team used different platforms, included more visuals, and targeted new audiences; the outreach materials focused on plain language. The outreach team spoke more specifically about the data that are changing and why this effort is so urgent. The team also made and shared online surveys to learn about:

  • The public’s knowledge of different hazards;
  • Concerns about risks and vulnerabilities; and
  • Opinions on mitigation options.

The team shared these surveys across island-wide networks. The networks sent the surveys out to their own groups, such as church organizations. They were distributed at:

  • Community gatherings;
  • Workshops; and
  • Online.

Nearly 900 people responded. The responses showed a strong interest in hazards and mitigation opportunities. More than 75% of respondents wanted to see the government spend money to reduce risks due to climate change.

Community officials shared information and gathered feedback at two public meetings. In November 2018, about 70 attendees learned about the plan update process. The attendees also gave input on options. In February 2019, the city held a public workshop. Roughly 60 people worked in small groups on mitigation and resilience for:

  • Flooding, hurricanes and tsunamis;
  • Adapting infrastructure to climate change;
  • Improving land use policies, regulations and codes;
  • Incentives for residential hazard mitigation and resilience; and
  • Essential services and facilities.

The following federal, state and local agencies participated:

  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Weather Service
  • The State of Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency
  • The State of Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources
  • The Mayor’s Office and City Council
  • The Department of Emergency Management and Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency

Community officials presented information to the public; the planning team brought the process to organizations for their perspective. The Cross Island Communities Resilience Network, a group of organizations focused on smaller-scale resilience efforts, also gave input on the plan. This network includes these organizations:

  • The Kāne‘ohe/Kahalu‘u Community Emergency Response Team
  • Be Ready Mānoa
  • Hau‘ula Emergency Leadership Planning
  • Kailua Alert and Prepared
  • ʻĀina Haina Prepared
  • Hawaiʻi Kai Strong
  • ʻEwa Emergency Preparedness Committee / Waiʻanae Coast Disaster Response Team (now Island Preparedness Group) and others

The team also presented to the Hawai‘i Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster group, which offered insights.

The public input is included in the hazard mitigation plan. It helped determine which mitigation projects were prioritized. There were several weather events and a ballistic missile threat during the plan update timeframe. This series of events provided ripe conditions for the public to take part. Several other groups had similar discussions across the island. This reinforced the messaging and importance of this process.

Key Takeaways

Including diverse voices develops crucial “buy-in.” It strengthens the plan and expands collaboration.

  1. Keep it local. Keep it topical. Honolulu tapped into several local governments, as well as state and federal partners. Local, state and federal government provided expertise and shared the messaging across their networks.
  2. Partner with organizations that are already involved in resilience. The planning team did not always need to be the meeting convener.
  3. Provide many opportunities for the public to engage. Residents gave feedback through a survey and two public workshops.

Related Documents and Links

An approved hazard mitigation plan is also required for certain kinds of non-emergency disaster funding. To learn more about funding eligible projects, review the Mitigation Planning and Grants information on FEMA.gov.

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