Maui emergency services chief resigns

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Maui Emergency Management Services administrator resigned Thursday. Administrator Herman Andaya was in charge of the response to the wildfires on Maui and his qualifications came under question upon review.

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It quickly became clear that Andaya was in over his head. It is reported that he was not on the island when the fires began on Maui. As I wrote for our VIP subscribers yesterday, Andaya had no experience in emergency management. He was hired in 2017 but it looks like he was hired due to his political connections, not his expertise in emergency management. His background is in law and political science. He was hired without ever having held a full-time job in emergency management. He was the chief of staff for former mayor Alan Arakawa. Andaya was hired over 40 other applicants for the job.

As noted in that post, human error is usually behind these events, not a sweeping ideological explanation, like global warming (or boiling) as progressives like to use as a default reason for any weather event. Andaya failed to give the order to use the island’s emergency siren system, which seems like a really poor decision. Instead, he relied on warnings sent to cell phones, which left many people out of the loop. Other decisions were poorly decided, too, including the use of water to fight the flames, as David wrote about yesterday. M. Kaleo Manuel refused to release water in Maui as the fire raged. He is the deputy director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. His reason was that water should be revered, not used.

Will M. Kaleo Manuel hold himself accountable and resign? Between his poor judgement and that of Andaya, wildfires swept through the town of Lahaina and more than 100 people are reported dead. That number is expected to grow. The town is destroyed.

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AP reports that Andaya feared that using the sirens during the blaze might cause people to go “mauka”, a navigational term in Hawaiian meaning toward the mountains or inland. “If that was the case, then they would have gone into the fire,” Andaya explained. That decision, along with water shortages, and a clogged escape route, all added up to the deadliest wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century.

As I said, the number of deaths continues to rise. As of Thursday, the number is 111 people dead. Searchers have covered about 45% of the burned area.

Andaya is citing health reasons for his resignation. His resignation is effective immediately.

“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, and I look forward to making that announcement soon,” Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said.

Details about the health reasons that Andaya cited were not immediately available. CNN has sought comment from Hawaii Gov. Josh Green.

Andaya refused to say he regretted not sounding the sirens. Hard to believe, but that was his attitude. Other elected officials are criticizing the response now. And his explanation for not using the sirens – the navigational thing – insults Hawaiians.

At a Wednesday news conference, Andaya was asked whether he regretted not sounding the alarms. Andaya said, “I do not,” telling reporters he worried that if they had sounded, many residents would’ve gone inland and “would have gone into the fire.”

US Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii criticized that response later that day, calling Andaya’s assessment of the situation and comment about not regretting his decision “premature.”

Before Andaya’s resignation was announced, state Sen. Angus McKelvey, who represents the devastated town of Lahaina and lost his own home in the fires, blasted Andaya’s response as “insulting.”

“I’ve heard the line that ‘people would have panicked and ran up to the mountains because it’s a tsunami siren.’ … It’s insulting to think that people would be that clueless, that they wouldn’t know that sirens blasting was because of the fire,” McKelvey told CNN on Thursday. “These are not tsunami sirens. They’re disaster sirens.”

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Let’s hope that someone with the proper qualifications is found for the job this time. It’s too late for the town of Lahaina and the souls who lost their lives.

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