Maui Emergency Chief Steps Down After Criticism Over Wildfire Response


Maui’s emergency management chief resigned on Thursday, the County of Maui announced, a day after he defended the decision to leave the state’s warning sirens silent as deadly wildfires tore across the island last week.

Key Facts

Herman Andaya, the head of Maui’s emergency management agency, resigned with immediate effect on Thursday, the county said.

Andaya cited unspecified “health reasons” for the sudden decision, which comes a day after he defended the decision not to use the island’s emergency sirens.

Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said he has accepted Andaya’s resignation and will be moving to fill the position “as quickly as possible” given the “gravity of the crisis.”

“I look forward to making an announcement soon,” he said.

News Peg

Hawaii boasts one of the world’s largest systems of outdoor public emergency warning sirens in the world but they didn’t sound as deadly wildfires spread through Maui. Problems with many of the other methods of warning people about the fire—including by text, phone and television—compounded the issue, as they were disrupted by the fire’s impact on electric and communications networks. Andaya has faced extensive criticism over the decision to leave them silent but said sounding them could have people in more danger, not less, as they are primarily used to warn against incoming tsunamis. The “public is trained to seek higher ground” when the sirens sound, he explained, which could have sent people into danger rather than away from it. The sirens are not single purpose, however, and Hawaii’s official government website lists “wildfires” as a possible use. According to news reports, Andaya had no background in disaster response when he was hired for the job in 2017, though he pushe back against allegations he is unqualified for the role given his previous work in government.

Key Background

The official death toll of the wildfires that tore through Maui last week stood at 111 people as of Thursday, according to Maui County. This figure is expected to rise, potentially by as many as 20 people a day, according to Hawaii Governor Josh Green, and around 1,000 people are still thought to be missing. It will likely be some time before the full scale of the wildfire’s devastation is known. The blaze has gutted the historic site of Lahaina, will have a long lasting impact on the environment and could pose health risks for years to come. Relatively few of those killed by the fire have been formally identified as the conflagration has destroyed many of the crucial markers used to identify people.

Big Number

58%. That’s how much of the affected area in Maui had been searched as of Thursday, according to the Maui Police Department. Some 41 search and rescue dogs and hundreds of emergency personnel from governmental and nongovernmental organizations like the Red Cross are involved in the effort, Green said.

Further Reading

Maui Officials Say Warning Sirens Would Not Have Saved Lives As Fire Death Toll Climbs To 111 (Forbes)

Maui wildfires expose rift over island’s tourism: ‘We’re more vulnerable than anyone admits’ (Guardian)