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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Maui’s emergency services chief resigns after facing criticism for not activating sirens during fire

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LAHAINA (US), Aug 18 (AP): The head of the Maui Emergency Management Agency resigned
abruptly on Thursday, a day after saying he had no regret about not using sirens to warn residents of
wildfires that devastated the historic seaside community of Lahaina and killed at least 111 people.
That decision from the agency directed by Administrator Herman Andaya, coupled with water
shortages that hampered firefighters and an escape route that became clogged with vehicles, has
brought intense criticism from many residents. The lack of sirens has emerged as a potential
misstep, and The Associated Press reported that it was part of a series of communication issues that
added to the chaos.
Mayor Richard Bissen accepted Andaya’s resignation effective immediately, the County of Maui
announced on Facebook. Andaya cited unspecified health reasons, with no further details provided.
“Given the gravity of the crisis we are facing, my team and I will be placing someone in this key
position as quickly as possible,” Bissen said in the statement.
A day earlier, Andaya defended the decision not to sound sirens as the flames raged. Hawaii has
what it touts as the largest system of outdoor alert sirens in the world.
“We were afraid that people would have gone mauka,” Andaya said, using a Hawaiian word that
means inland or toward the mountain. “If that was the case, then they would have gone into the
fire.”
The siren system was created after a 1946 tsunami that killed more than 150 on the Big Island, and
its website says they may be used to alert for fires.
Andaya was to take part in a meeting of Maui’s fire and public safety commission on Thursday
morning, but it was cancelled.
On Wednesday he vigorously defended his qualifications for the job, which he had held since 2017.
He said he was not appointed but had been vetted, took a civil service exam and was interviewed by
seasoned emergency managers.
Andaya said he had previously been deputy director of the Maui County Department of Housing and
Human Concerns and had been chief of staff for former Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa for 11
years.
During that time, he said, he often reported to “emergency operations centres” and participated in
numerous trainings.
“So to say that I’m not qualified I think is incorrect,” he said.
Arakawa said he was disappointed by the resignation ”because now we’re out one person who is
really qualified.” Arakawa said Andaya was scrutinised for the job by the county’s personnel service.
“He was trying to be strong and trying to do the job,” Arakawa said about the wildfire response.
”He was very, very heartbroken about all the things that happened.”
Hawaii Attorney General Anne Lopez said earlier Thursday in a statement that an outside
organisation will conduct “an impartial, independent” review of the government’s response and
officials intend “to facilitate any necessary corrective action and to advance future emergency
preparedness.” The investigation will likely take months, she added.
Avery Dagupion, whose family’s home was destroyed, is among many residents who say they
weren’t given earlier warning to get out.
He pointed to an announcement by Bissen on August 8 saying the fire had been contained. That
lulled people into a sense of safety and left him distrusting officials, Dagupion said.
At the Wednesday news conference, Gov. Josh Green and Bissen bristled when asked about such
criticism.
“The people who were trying to put out these fires lived in those homes — 25 of our firefighters lost
their homes,” Bissen said. ”You think they were doing a halfway job?”
Displaced residents are steadily filling hotels that are prepared to house them and provide services
until at least next spring.
Authorities hope to empty crowded, uncomfortable group shelters by early next week, said Brad
Kieserman, vice president for disaster operations with the American Red Cross. Hotels are also

available for eligible evacuees who have spent the last eight days sleeping in cars or camping in
parking lots, he said.
“We will be able to keep folks in hotels for as long as it takes to find housing for them,” Kieserman
said at a media briefing.
“I am confident we’ll have plenty of rooms.”
Contracts with the hotels will last for at least seven months but could easily be extended, he said.
Service providers at the properties will offer meals, counselling, financial assistance and other
disaster aid.
Green has said at least 1,000 hotel rooms will be set aside. In addition, AirBnB said its nonprofit wing
will provide properties for 1,000 people.
The governor has also vowed to protect local landowners from being “victimised” by opportunistic
buyers.

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