Maui Emergency Management Agency Administrator confirmed the sirens were purposely not sounded for the Maui fires, and he’d do it again.
MEMA (Maui Emergency Management Agency) Administrator Herman Andaya said: “The sirens … are used primarily for tsunamis. And that’s the reason why many of them are found, almost all of them are found, on the coastline. The public is trained to seek higher ground in the event that the siren is sounded. … Having sounded the siren that night, we’re afraid that people would have gone mauka [mountainside], and if that was the case, then they would’ve gone into the fire.”
He explained that there are no sirens mauka where the fire was spreading, so “even if we sounded the siren, it would not have saved those people on the mountainside.”
At a news conference Andaya was asked if he regretted not sounding the siren, to which he answered, “I do not.”
Andaya said Maui County’s internal protocol is to use wireless emergency alerts via text message (also referred to as “WEA” by officials) or the emergency alert system through TV and radio (also known as “EAS”).
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s website says the all-hazard siren system can be used for “both natural and human-caused events; including tsunamis, hurricanes, dam breaches, flooding, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, terrorist threats, hazardous material incidents and more.”
According to residents, as cell services failed, they were unable to receive warnings. Many said that if not for neighbors banging on doors, many would not have made it out. Said Sione Finau, describing a friend who stopped by to let him know his house had burned down, “We didn’t get any warning either. No one was there for help nobody. Everyone was left on their own.”
Andaya said Maui County’s Emergency Operations Center was partially activated around 9 p.m. on August 7 because of fires in Kula. After a fire broke out in Lahaina the next morning and a flare-up spurred the much larger blaze later in the afternoon, the center went into full activation. Andaya said officials in the center “were in constant communications with the field,” after it became clear how dire the situation was.
Andaya claims that even if sirens were activated, most people would not have heard them. He said: “You have to also remember that that day in Lahaina, it’s an outdoor siren, so a lot of people who are indoors, with air conditioning on, whatever the case may be, they’re not going to hear the siren. Plus the winds were gusty and everything. I heard it was very loud. And so they wouldn’t have heard the sirens. And so we believed the most effective way of getting the message out to the public was through WEA and EAS. And that’s the method we used.”
The state Attorney General’s Office is conducting a review of the decision-making and policies that went into the fire response on Maui and Hawaii island. Hawaii Governor Josh Green said it is “not a criminal investigation in any way,” adding, “We’re performing a comprehensive review to find out what the safest and most effective science-based way it is to protect people. There are a lot of different geographies across our country. Some use sirens. Some don’t.”
The Governor said the fires would prompt “a lot of changes,” including getting power lines underground, which the state plans to “invest very heavily on” in recovery, as well as more satellite capacity across the state.