Hawai'i State News

HI-EMA shifts Mauna Loa focus to damage assessment, demobilization

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The Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency, or HI-EMA, is shifting its focus on the Big Island now that Mauna Loa’s Northeast Rift Zone eruption is paused.

A morning overflight Dec. 7 provided aerial views of fissure 3 erupting on the Northeast Rift Zone of Mauna Loa. U.S. Geological Survey image by M. Patrick.

The agency is recalling it teams that were deployed to assist Hawai‘i County Civil Defense during the eruption and efforts will now move to compiling damage and impact estimates that could be used to support a request for federal disaster assistance.

“Some forms of federal aid are only available if Hawai‘i pursues a major disaster declaration, and that requires proof that the state and Hawai‘i County incurred certain threshold costs for protective measures, damages and impacts,” said HI-EMA Administrator Luke Meyers in a press release. “The damage information we’re collecting from our partners will be used to determine what kinds of federal assistance and reimbursement might be available.”

When the Mauna Loa eruption began late Nov. 27, Hawai‘i County and a host of partners began working around the clock to manage and monitor aspects of the incident, including:

  • Establishing temporary shelters in the early hours of the eruption.
  • Assessing damage and potential damage to roads and infrastructure.
  • Monitoring air quality and providing protective equipment against volcanic emissions.
  • Making overflights and instrument observation to track the lava, hot spots and emissions.
  • Putting in place traffic control measures and security — including deployment of 20 Hawai‘i National Guard personnel — to prevent trespassing and visitor injuries, vehicle collisions and unauthorized parking along the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road.
On Dec. 12, Hawaiian Volcano Observatory geologists observed only residual incandescence and no lava movement in the fissure 3 vent on the Northeast Rift Zone of Mauna Loa. The channels below the vent appear drained of lava and no longer feed the main flow front. Photo Credit: USGS/F. Trusdell.

HI-EMA personnel were deployed to the Big Island as part of that cooperative effort to assist the County with operations, planning, logistics and other duties, working side-by-side with their counterparts in the County Emergency Operations Center. Multiple teams were deployed and rotated back to HI-EMA throughout the two-week eruption.

With the announcement this week by the U.S. Geological Survey that the Mauna Loa and Kilauea eruptions had paused, those HI-EMA personnel are demobilizing and returning to the agency’s headquarters in Diamond Head crater on O‘ahu. The State Emergency Operations Center is also scaling back activity and is expected to be deactivated for this incident by Saturday.

“Our role is to support the County in an incident like this, so we are following their lead in reducing our footprint,” said Matthew Wall, operations branch chief for HI-EMA and State Emergency Operations Center manager for the Mauna Loa eruption, in the press release.


Now the agency will move into the resilience phase, which involves collecting information, verifying costs and damage assessments and documenting best practices to mitigate harm. This data is essential as the state assesses whether to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency or other federal programs for assistance and reimbursement.

One possible source of reimbursement would be a federal major disaster declaration, which has minimum cost thresholds to qualify. The current federal thresholds for public assistance to Hawai‘i under a major disaster declaration are about $890,000 for Hawai‘i County and $2.58 million for the state.

Meyers encouraged partner agencies to submit their eligible costs, damages and impact estimates as soon as possible.


“Fortunately, the Mauna Loa eruption wound up posing no direct lava threat to any of our communities, but it still caused substantial damage and our partners incurred costs to protect the public,” he said in the press release. “The federal government may be able to assist with those costs, but we have to do our homework now to determine that.”.

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