Got a complex problem? Map it before trying to solve it

Published in the Oct. 2015 issue. 

To transform a system as complex as energy in Hawaii, dynamic thinking is needed, Dawn Lippert says. Systems maps and systems thinking help guide that dynamic thinking.

“The way we see systems thinking for energy is that it’s bridging across space, but then also trying to forecast across time. So longtime transformation is a very complex set of systems,” says Lippert, the director of the Energy Excelerator, a nonprofit that supports innovative energy startups.

By mapping Hawaii’s energy system, the Energy Excelerator has identified gaps and challenges – such as how the state can reduce energy costs and continue to reduce the use of fossil fuels in vehicles.

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Staying power

Published in the Nov. 2015 issue. 

Mokuaikaua Church
Mokuaikaua Church: Based on its founding in 1820, this church in Kailua-Kona could be considered Hawaii’s oldest continuously operated organization. It is also the oldest Christian church in the state, though it did not officially incorporate until long after its founding, according to church historian Yolanda Olson.

Before the first group of missionaries arrived from Boston in 1820, Kamehameha II had lifted the kapu on men and women eating together, overturned the traditional religion and ordered all temples to be destroyed, leaving a void that would later be filled by the missionaries and Christianity. The Hawaiians “were ready for it because it gave them a chance to learn, to read and write,” Olson says.

She says the church was officially founded on April 4, 1820. Church members first worshipped in a canoe shed, then a grass hale church that seated about 300. When the group outgrew that building, another grass church was built (shown below). Olson says that building was destroyed by fire and, in 1836, construction of a lava-rock church began. John Adams Kuakini, governor of Hawaii Island, financed the construction, and the building was completed in 1837. It remains today.

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Lessons learned from Katrina

Published on Nov. 16, 2015. 

If a Category 3 or higher hurricane hits Honolulu, the city is not prepared, at least in terms of buildings.

According to George Atta, director of the city Department of Planning and Permitting, the existing building code only requires resistance to a wind load of a Category 2 hurricane, which would have sustained winds of 96-110 miles per hour. However, different types of buildings can have different requirements.

“To get hit by a Category 3 storm is going to be hard,” Atta said. “And while you can change the building codes, just the scale of all of the buildings in Honolulu, if we changed the building code to require a Category 3 protection — like some of the Gulf coast cities now have protection to Category 3 — it’ll be very, very expensive, first of all.”

A major storm

Atta was part of a Nov. 12 panel on campus that discussed the lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina and the implications for the state. The panel included University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Meteorology Professor Gary Barnes, Sociology Lecturer Jennifer Darrah, Engineering Professor Ian Robertson and National Disaster Preparedness Training Center Executive Director Karl Kim, who moderated the panel.

As the third deadliest storm in the U.S., Hurricane Katrina made landfall as a Category 3 storm, flooded 80 percent of the city and caused an estimated $150 billion in damages. Approximately 1,400 people were killed.

According to Barnes, the storm was very well-forecasted, but the human response to it was a big issue.

“The social portion of dealing with disasters or responding correctly to disasters is one of the big issues that I don’t know how to solve,” Robertson said at the panel.

Preventative measures

As a structural engineer, he learned three main lessons from the disaster:

•Blind reliance on engineered structures is not always prudent. • Surge and wave action is more damaging than wind.

•Good engineering and advanced

preparation are essential to improving resilience for these mega events.

On O‘ahu, 76 bridges are located in coastal areas, with 27 being labeled in a state Department of Transportation study as “critical.” One of the bridges in trouble is Kahalu‘u Stream Bridge on the east side, which lies only three- to five- feet above sea level. While Kāne‘ohe Bay is secluded because of its reef, this makes no difference to the storm surge, Robertson said.

However, many of the bridges around the island have been rebuilt, such as the one for Punalu‘u Stream.

For buildings, wind is going to cause damage, though Robertson said it can be solved.

“Hurricane clips strap down the side of the house and make a huge difference,” he said. “The houses that get damaged are the old single wall construction with no connection between the roof and the walls and the walls and the foundation. We solved that problem because the codes do require it.”

According to Atta, this requirement is for new residential buildings. His department hopes to bring an updated version of the building code up for adoption next year.

Lessons learned

What can really be learned from Katrina is that evacuation is the way to save lives.

“Somehow we have to convince people that they need to get away from the shoreline, and if they’re in substandard homes, they should go to refuge,” Robertson said. “If you’re in a decent 1980 plus home, it may be better to stay at home because there’s not enough storm shelters for everybody.”

There are enough shelters for about one-third of O‘ahu’s population, but according to Atta, only half of them are adequate.

However, he said the city’s emergency response system is better than most states and some communities have even prepared localized responses.