Maui’s top emergency official is out after failing to sound sirens as fires approach

Maui’s top emergency management official resigned Thursday, a day after defending his decision not to sound warning sirens as wildfires spread across the island.

Herman Andaya, the administrator of the county’s emergency management agency, has resigned, effective immediately, a county spokesman said.

Andaya, citing health reasons, submitted her resignation “effective immediately” and Mayor Richard Bissen accepted, Maui County said in a statement Thursday.

“Given the severity of the crisis we face, my team and I will put someone in this key position as soon as possible, and I look forward to making that announcement soon,” Bissen said.

A wildfire ravaged the historic West Maui town of Lahaina on August 8, killing more than 100 people and destroying thousands of buildings, many of them residential.

Residents described leaving the area with little more than they could hold – and many had no way to receive emergency alerts sent to mobile devices because power had been cut since that morning.

Andaya said coastal residents decided not to sound sirens because they feared they would flee inland toward the flames as the fire got closer.

“The public is trained to seek higher ground when the siren is sounded,” he said, adding that sirens are primarily used for tsunamis.

Maui County Emergency Management Agency Administrator Herman Andaya spoke to reporters Wednesday in Hawaii, Hawaii.K.H.N.L

“We were afraid that if we had sounded the siren that night, people would have gone to Mauga,” Andaya said, using the word “downhill.”

“If so, they would have gone into the fire,” he said.

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Andaya said the agency’s protocol for warning about brushes is to use cell phones and other warning systems that send messages over television and radio.

Andaya downplayed the use of sirens in recent years, repeatedly describing their use as a “last resort,” records show.

At the 2020 meeting, when he reported that only 58 of the island’s more than 70 sirens worked during a recent monthly test, he said the process of fixing them was slow and that there were other ways to notify the public in emergencies.

A fire official responded that they are even more important during major emergencies when electricity and telephones are down.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to devalue the sirens,” Andaya said. “Chief, I completely agree with you that Sirens are important.”

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