Charlotte Tyler
August 20, 2023

Maui's director of emergency management resigns after defending decision not to activate alarms during wildfire

Thursday, the director of Maui's Emergency Management Agency resigned, just one day after defending his controversial decision not to activate the island-wide alarm system as destructive wildfires ravaged the island.

Chief Herman Andaya resigned citing "health reasons," according to Mayor Richard Bissen, as the New York Post reported.

His departure is effective immediately, leaving the emergency department's chief position vacant as the devastated island struggles to recover from the blaze that killed at least 111 people.

“Given the gravity of the crisis we are facing, 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,” Mayor Bissen said in a statement.

Questions About Andaya

Andaya's qualifications for the position were called into doubt after he was harshly criticized for his decision to alert Maui residents to evacuate as flames approached their homes.

Wednesday during a media briefing, the former MEMA director stated that he does not regret failing to activate the deafening alarms, despite a reporter's aggressive assertion that the system could have saved hundreds of lives.

Andaya stated that the blaring sirens are typically designated for tsunami alerts and that Hawaiians have been trained to seek higher ground when they are activated.

However, the official government website of Hawaii lists wildfires as one of the disasters for which "all-hazard" coverage could be utilized.

“Even if we sounded the siren, we would not have saved those people out there on the mountainside,” Andaya said.

Andaya's Defense

He also defended his professional history, telling reporters he had undergone extensive screening and training prior to assuming the primary role in 2017.

However, Andaya has no direct experience in emergency management beyond his coordination with the agency during his time in the housing department and as a member of the mayor's cabinet.

When asked if he would contemplate passing the reins to someone else, he sidestepped the question. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post.

As of Thursday, rescue teams had combed through at least 45 percent of the affected area and verified the deaths of 111 people. However, the death toll is expected to rise as officials continue to comb through the rubble.

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses remain without electricity, despite the placement of thousands of displaced residents in shelters, hotels, and Airbnb units.

Already the deadliest in the United States in more than a century, the source of the wildfires is being investigated.

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