Emergency Response to Hawaii Wildfires Receiving Scrutiny
From local utilities preparing for the threat to warning sirens not sounding, people searching for answers August 17, 2023
Questions about how state and local government officials responded to the threat of the deadly wildfires that devastated the town of Lahaina on Maui in Hawaii remain unanswered more than a week after almost 100 people were killed and 1,700 buildings destroyed.
The Washington Post speculated on whether Hawaiian Electric, the utility that serves Maui, took the proper steps to minimize the potential damage days before the fires took place, when weather forecasters predicted heavy winds could produce damaging wildfires.
Hawaiian Utility did not deploy a public power shut off in the days before the fires, a tactic that more states have adopted recently to lessen the potential impact of wildfires. Energized power lines that hit the ground from winds or fires can only increase the fire risk.
The use of emergency warning siren systems is also under scrutiny. CNN reported that the state’s integrated outdoor warning siren system never activated during the fires.
“Nobody at the state and nobody at the county attempted to activate those sirens based on our records,” said a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency spokesman in an interview. “They were trying to coordinate response on the ground, and they had already issued these other alert systems,” such as cellphone alerts and TV and radio messages.
Others say island and local officials did all that they could, considering the rate at which the fires spread. Maui County Fire Chief Brad Ventura told CNN it was “nearly impossible” for emergency response teams to instigate evacuations.
“What we experienced was such a fast-moving fire through the neighborhood that the initial neighborhood that caught fire, they were basically self-evacuating with fairly little notice,” Ventura told CNN.
Dave Lubach is the executive editor for the facilities market. He has more than eight years of experience covering facilities management and maintenance issues.