Hawaii News

Kaua‘i supports disaster-proof domes at debut public meeting; organizers want concept to go statewide and beyond

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Anaina Hou CEO Jill Lowry delivers a presentation on monolithic domes. Photo: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now

Hugh Sasaki and David Gardener were among about 30 Kaua‘i residents to gather at Anaina Hou Community Park last Friday night – but not for an evening’s entertainment at the popular event venue located on the island’s North Shore.

Sasaki, Gardener and their neighbors had instead assembled at the invitation of Anaina Hou CEO Jill Lowry, who is spearheading a movement to construct three “disaster-proof” monolithic domes behind the property’s miniature golf course. Friday was the first in a planned series of meetings to be hosted by Lowry, to introduce and discuss the domes with interested locals.

The interconnected concrete structures – dubbed the Kaua‘i Resilience Center – would be fireproof, capable of withstanding 290 mph-plus winds, and earthquake, hurricane and tsunami resistant.

When not serving as shelter for up to 1,500 individuals, the Center would house units dedicated to public health and safety services; vocational training; and cultural culinary entrepreneurship, food processing and preservation, and disaster mass feeding.

The domes are intended to serve as a model for communities in need of disaster-proof shelters throughout Kaua‘i, the State of Hawai‘i and beyond if built.


Lowry believes the need for such infrastructure is especially urgent now, as global warming exacerbates the number and severity of weather and climate disasters that occur throughout the world each year.

“We have no hurricane or storm or disaster shelters on this island at all,” Lowry told attendees at the beginning of a 30-minute presentation followed by a Q&A session. “There are not really many places to try to go. People try to go to schools or hospitals, etc. But the reality is, what we have that’s loosely called a shelter is good up to a robust tropical storm. That’s not even a category one [hurricane].”

A preliminary concept study of the Kaua‘i Resilience Center. Photo Courtesy: Kauairesilience.org

The Kaua‘i Emergency Management Agency lists 17 potential emergency shelters throughout the island on its webpage. All are schools, neighborhood centers or convention halls, which can hold a combined total of more than 15,000 individuals. The county agency is currently conducting a shelter assessment of these buildings with Department of Defense personnel.

“My focus here is, structures for climate change need to start changing because we’re not ready,” Lowry said. “Not just Kaua‘i. The entire state, the Gulf Coast and many places in the world are in exactly the same position.”

Earlier this month, the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information counted 28 weather and climate disasters within the United States in 2023, surpassing the previous record of 22 in 2020, tallying a price tag of at least $92.9 billion in damages.


Lowry’s presentation was met with approval. Sasaki and Gardener, like other attendees, are no strangers to natural disasters.

“We came from California, so we went through the Northridge earthquake,” said Sasaki, referring to the 6.7 magnitude temblor that rocked the Los Angeles area in January 1994.

The 20-second event – which occurred 30 years ago last Wednesday – killed scores of people and leveled 10s of thousands of buildings.

More recently, Gardener helped remove debris left by the historic “rain bomb” that flooded Kaua‘i in 2018.

“We had 50 inches of rain in 24 hours,” Gardener said. “I was a truck driver helping to clear the dirt that covered the highway. I was one of many, all day long … I’m aware of how vulnerable we are to weather impacts.”


Others present referenced Iniki, the hurricane that plowed across Kaua‘i in 1992, causing $3.1 billion in damage and killing seven people throughout the state.

Gardener paraphrased President John F. Kennedy when sharing his thoughts on the Kaua‘i Resilience Center.

“He said: ‘Listen, we need a moonshot. We’re going to do it because it’s hard but it’s necessary,'” Gardener said, noting he wants to assist in the effort to build the domes. “This makes so much sense. It has to happen.”

Sasaki – a former civil servant for the City of Los Angeles – was more circumspect in his reaction, although he agreed the Kaua‘i Resilience Center is “a great idea.”

A cutaway diagram of a monolithic dome. Photo Courtesy: Jill Lowry

“How long is this actually going to take?” he said. “Working for the City of Los Angeles, when they say ‘Something’s going to happen,’ or ‘We’re going to get this done,’ it’s usually at least five years along the line before anything actually gets started. So I’m kind of leery about that if that’s going to happen here.”

Stefan Swanepoel – president of the Princeville II Community Association and the Kaua’i North Shore Community Foundation – was also receptive to the vision laid out by Lowry, who encourages anyone with questions to email her directly at jillwlowry@anainahou.org.

“There is an obvious absence of a resilience plan,” he said.

However, Swanepoel and others noted the funding needed to make the Kaua‘i Resilience Center a reality has yet to be secured in full. Over $75,000 has been raised to date, but a projected total of $24 million is needed to complete construction.

Lowry – whose 12-member capital committee is currently soliciting private donations – said grants, and perhaps a celebrity ambassador, will eventually enter the picture. She also hopes to see the Hawai‘i government chip in 50% of dome construction costs throughout the state, with local communities raising the other half, in the future.

Swanepoel said the Kaua’i North Shore Community Foundation, through its North Shore Give initiative, wants to help fund any disaster-preparedness plans brought to their attention, like Anaina Hou’s.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s $1 million or $10 million. How do you raise that kind of money?” Swanepoel said. “Somebody’s got to take the lead and shout from the mountaintops, and beg and scream and negotiate and ask.

“We are looking for all of the projects out there that anybody may have,” he continued. “Whether it’s the Kīlauea Neighborhood Association, the Hanalei Initiative or Surfrider. What’s out there, and what can we support to try and see if we can help them raise the money to get to this goal?”

Scott Yunker
Scott Yunker is a journalist living on Kauaʻi. His work for community newspapers has earned him awards and inclusion in the 2020 anthology "Corona City: Voices from an Epicenter."
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