Administrator of Maui Emergency Management Agency resigns
Maui Emergency Management Agency Administrator Herman Andaya, who faced questions during a press conference Aug. 16 on Maui regarding protocols for public notification and why sirens were not sounded as wildfires raged across the island the evening of Aug. 8, including while flames approached Lāhainā, has resigned effective immediately.
Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen accepted Andaya’s resignation Aug. 17. The embattled now former administrator cited health reasons as to why he was leaving the position.
The mayor said, given the gravity of the wildfire crisis on the Valley Isle, he would not waste time finding someone to take over leadership of the County’s emergency management agency.
“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,” Bissen said in a news release.
The Lāhainā Fire was 90% contained as of the latest update from Maui County at about 9:30 p.m. Thursday. It is the deadliest wildfire in the United States in the past century. The death toll from the wildfires stood at 111 Thursday night.
Andaya said the County’s Emergency Operating Center was already under partial activation the evening of Aug. 7 in response to a Kula fire and subsequently went into full activation the next day. There was a fire in Lāhainā that morning that was brought under control and another fire that started in the afternoon.
During Wednesday’s press conference, Andaya defended his experience, noting he was a member of Bissen’s Cabinet and served as deputy director of the County Department of Housing and Human Concerns as well as a chief of staff during a prior administration. During those times, he said he would often report to the Emergency Operating Center and underwent numerous trainings.
“To say that I am not qualified, I think, is incorrect,” said Andaya. “In addition to that, when I applied for this position, which is by the way a civil service position, I went through a very arduous process. I was vetted, had to take a civil service exam, I was interviewed by seasoned emergency managers and they all deemed me qualified. In fact, I was selected”
When asked if he regrets not sounding the sirens, Andaya responded: “No. I do not.”
“The sirens, as I had mentioned earlier, is used primarily for tsunamis — and that’s the reason why many of them are found … almost all of them are found on the coastline,” he said. “The public is trained to seek higher ground in the event the siren is sounded.”
Andaya cited a guideline on the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency website that says if you are in a low-laying area near the coastline and hear a siren, evacuate to high grounds, inland or vertically to the fourth floor or higher of a concrete building. Alerts might also come in the form of a wireless emergency alert.
While not mentioned, the list of siren fast facts on the state emergency agency’s website also states: “The all-hazard siren system can be used for a variety of both natural and human-caused events, including tsunami, hurricanes, dam breaches, flooding, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, terrorist threats, hazardous material incidents and more.”
Andaya said had the agency sounded the siren that night, “we’re afraid people would have gone mauka, and if that was the case, they would have gone into the fire. That is why our protocol has been to use [wireless emergency alerts] and [the Emergency Alert System]. By the way, I should also note that there are no sirens mauka on the mountainside where the fire was spreading down.”
He said the Emergency Operating Center was in constant communication with the field.
When asked when it became apparent that people were in imminent danger, he responded: “It was immediately.”
He also explained that he was attending a conference on Oʻahu during the incident, but was told by staff that they received information from a Maui Fire Department battalion chief, who was in the Emergency Operating Center, that their crews were being overrun.
It was at that point, Andaya said, evacuation notices were sent.