Convention Panel Discussion

Resiliency is always an important topic for Hawaiʻi’s food industry, and this year’s Convention panel revisited this conversation. Our panelists included government, business, and NGO experts in food and energy and touched on how resilient our State is now, and what’s needed to improve our resiliency.


Amy Marvin, CEO Hawaiʻi Foodbank

Jennifer Walter, Deputy Director, Department of Emergency Management City and County of Honolulu

Maile Miyashiro, Sr. Director, Customer Experience, C&S Wholesale Grocers and incoming HFIA Vice Chair

Ryan Day, Account Executive, Hawaii Gas

And our Moderator Caroline Carl, Executive Director of Hawaii Energy.

Caroline started off the discussion with an important note on the definition of resiliency, “The ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult events.” For Hawaiʻi, this ability is not just an advantage, it is a necessity. As a geographically isolated island community that is currently dependent on imports, Hawaiʻi’s food supply chain is vulnerable to disruption due to natural disasters and other crisis. Much of our critical infrastructure is aging. Other infrastructure is located in the likely inundation zone during a hurricane or tsunami. Estimates about how much food is located in the state at any given time vary from a weeks’ worth to much less, depending on the levels of bulk buying and hoarding before a disaster strikes. These challenges mean there is an added sense of urgency for those working to make our state more resilient. As the businesses that feed our state, HFIA’s members, and the association itself, play an important role in creating more resilient food systems for Hawaiʻi. Our panelists explored this vital topic and offered some valuable insight into key aspects of the resiliency discussion.

Food Security and Resiliency

The Hawaiʻi Foodbank has proven time and again that they are indispensable when hurricanes or other natural disasters strike the state. Their extensive network of food industry partners, including many HFIA members, and other agency partners makes them uniquely prepared to step up in times of crisis. Of course, for the many Hawaiʻi residents experiencing food insecurity the Hawaiʻi Foodbank is indispensable  every day, not just when the state is experiencing an emergency.

Providing food to residents who can’t afford it on a regular basis and coordinating mass feedings during a disaster are distinct but interconnected tasks. Amy discussed the lessons from past efforts to provide some unhoused residents with food prior to a potential natural disaster. When prepackaged meals were handed out with the intention that they be saved, many recipients instead ate them right away. Jennifer also touched on the challenges that food insecure and economically challenged families have in maintaining the recommended two-week supply of food.

What this underscores is that when it comes to food supply chains food security is the foundation of resiliency. Improving Hawaiʻi’s food security is likely one of the most important steps to take to make the state more resilient over all.

An Integrated Approach

Hawaiʻi’s food, energy, and transportation sectors are inexorably linked. Our panelists touched on some of the most complex challenges faced in mass feeding events during and after a natural disaster. Much of the language that is often used around resiliency is focused on the quantity of food available. While ensuring that the state has enough food is step one, making sure that the food can be transported, stored, refrigerated, cooked, or otherwise prepared is just as important.

In order to improve resiliency, the state needs to plan ahead for where food will likely be needed and make sure that it is stored in accessible locations. Flexibility and diversification in the ways that we move food and the types of energy we use to prepare it are also important. Most important, and perhaps most relevant for HFIA is that leaders and essential businesses will have to continue to plan, communicate, and work together.

At the end of the meeting one of our audience members asked what businesses in Hawaiʻi can do right now to improve resiliency. Jennifer replied that making a plan for employees and making sure that they were prepared and ready for a potential disaster is one of the most important first steps. HFIA members employ thousands of businesses around the state and creating company cultures of preparedness is a great resiliency too.

HFIA members have long demonstrated that they are invested in supporting their employees, their communities, and the state during times of disaster and crisis. We look forward to continuing this conversation with leaders in our industry, government agencies, and other partners to build a more resilient Hawaiʻi.