Hawaiian Electric to launch new program as ‘last line of defense’ against wildfires

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Hawaiian Electric hopes to reduce the risk of wildfires being sparked by electrical equipment with a new program in high risk service areas throughout the state.

The utility is launching July 1 its new Public Safety Power Shutoff program. It’s the last line of defense for communities most threatened by wildfires, starting in areas on O‘ahu, Maui, Moloka‘i and the Big Island.

Tinder-dry conditions contributed to the spread of a 2012 wildfire in Kaʻū. (File photo courtesy of the Hawaiʻi Fire Department)

Just as its name suggests, the program involves preemptively shutting off power in locations at high risk of fire, where high winds, low humidity and dry or drought conditions are forecast.

“Wildfires have been recognized as a top hazard facing Hawaiʻi,” said Jim Alberts, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president and chief operations officer. “Hawaiian Electric has responded with a multi-pronged approach to mitigating wildfire risk. One component is proactively shutting off power … “

A shutoff will only be activated if data indicate conditions for heightened wildfire risk.

The red flag warnings and fire weather watches issued by the National Weather Service, which residents throughout the islands have become familiar with during the past several years, will be considered, but will not necessarily mean a shutoff will happen.


Hawaiian Electric officials explained during a Tuesday news conference on O‘ahu that other data will be taken into account, including information from 54 weather stations the utility will install throughout its system this summer, as well as wind speeds of more than 40 mph, circuit locations and observations from the field at the time.

Shutoffs won’t happen automatically. The utility will provide as much advance notice as possible. It hopes to collect all necessary information within 24 to 48 hours before a shutoff happens.

However, if conditions suddenly become hazardous, there could be little or no notice.

Once a decision is made, Hawaiian Electric will coordinate with government agencies, including each island’s emergency management officials, and others such as first responders to notify them and the public of its plans to issue a power shutoff alert.

Fortunately, the kinds of wind speeds and conditions Hawaiian Electric will be keeping an eye on during the summer months when humidity levels are at their lowest and drought conditions are persistent are relatively rare.


“It’s possible … that we can get through the entire wildfire season this year without any [Public Safety Power Shutoff] alerts, but we want to be ready to do so just in case,” said Colton Ching, Hawaiian Electric senior vice president of planning and technology.

The program is focusing first on areas with a combination of those risk factors, also including vegetation prone to wildfires and historically higher rates of fires. It will expand in the future to all high-risk areas on the islands the utility serves.

  • Screenshot of image from the Hawaiian Electric Public Safety Power Shutoff program website.
  • Screenshot of image from the Hawaiian Electric Public Safety Power Shutoff program website.
  • Screenshot of image from the Hawaiian Electric Public Safety Power Shutoff program website.

On the Big Island, the program will start in North Hawai‘i, between Kohala and Waikōloa; West Hawai‘i, between Kalaoa and Hōlualoa; and between Mauna Kea Access Road and Waiki’i Ranch. Those areas encompass about 19,300 Hawaiian Electric customers.

Hawaiian Electric has been working with California utilities to learn from their experience with these types of emergency shutoff programs, as well as other consultants and experts.

If a shutoff does happen, Hawaiian Electric will notify and keep the public informed throughout the duration using various channels such as social media, radio, online outage maps, website updates and local emergency management agencies.


It also likely won’t be for an entire area but on a circuit-by-circuit basis.

Before power is turned back on once the fire weather threat has ended, Hawaiian Electric crews will begin patrolling the circuits that were de-energized, looking for damage to infrastructure and downed lines, any vegetation caught in power lines and other hazardous conditions. Inspections could involve ground crews and aerial inspections using helicopters and drones.

Any necessary repairs will be completed before power is restored.

While the goal is to have power turned back on as soon as possible, the process could result in extended outages that last several hours or even days, depending on the location and extent of any damage.

“We understand shutting off power can create hardships for affected customers, so this is not something we take lightly,” Alberts said.

Screenshot of image from the Hawaiian Electric Public Safety Power Shutoff program website.

The best way for customers to prepare is by staying informed.

“We’re going to be pushing out a lot of information to customers through various channels, so it’s going to be critically important that we have updated customer information,” said Brendan Bailey, Hawaiian Electric vice president of customer service. “We’re recommending that all customers, especially those in the [Public Safety Power Shutoff] area, actually reach out to us and update their information.”

There are a couple of ways that can be done.

Log in to your online account at the Hawaiian Electric website to make sure your information is up to date. If you haven’t registered for an online account, you will need your account number, which is located at the top of your bill. From there, it’s a matter of answering a few additional identifying questions.

Customers can also download the Hawaiian Electric mobile app available through the Apple Store and Google Play. The utility will be pushing out information via the app, so make sure you have notifications turned on.

You can also reach out to the Hawaiian Electric call center and speak to a customer service representative who can help update your information. Find the customer service number for your island here.

There will also be information pushed out and available on the Hawaiian Electric website. Also, be sure to follow Hawaiian Electric on Facebook, Instagram and X, formerly Twitter.

Bailey said preparation for possible shutoffs is essentially the same as preparing for other events such as hurricanes. However, special needs customers including those who use medical devices that depend on electricity will need to pay special attention to alerts and notifications.

The utility has a special medical needs communication form those customers can complete so Hawaiian Electric can reach out to them directly in the event of a shutoff to ensure they get the necessary notifications.

“We do understand that this is going to be a heavy lift for our customers,” Bailey said. “It’s a burden whenever the power goes out. But we’re trying to limit the impacts to our customers.”

Hawaiian Electric has been working closely with government agencies, other utilities, community stakeholders and commercial customers to make sure they are as prepared as possible in the event of a shutoff.

“But the bottom line is that we know we can’t do this … alone,” Bailey said. “We need to do this together, so we want to thank everybody in advance for their cooperation and understanding as we head toward July 1.”

Hawaiian Electric has a dedicated web page for the Public Safety Power Shutoff program where customers can get information about the program itself as well as tips to be prepared.

You can watch Tuesday’s news conference on O‘ahu on Hawaiian Electric’s Facebook page.

For more information about the utility’s three-phase wildfire safety strategy, which includes the Public Safety Power Shutoff program, click here.

Screenshot of image from the Hawaiian Electric Public Safety Power Shutoff program website.
Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at
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