Chief Herman Andaya of Maui's Emergency Management Agency resigns amid criticisms over not activating sirens during Hawaii's recent major wildfires.
Andaya resigned from his position citing health concerns.
This decision comes on the heels of significant public criticism following his team's decision not to activate warning sirens during a catastrophic wildfire that engulfed parts of the island, as reported by the Daily Mail.
On the fateful night of the wildfire, Andaya chose to issue alerts via mobile devices, radio waves, television, and the county's resident alert system.
Surprisingly, sirens were left out of the emergency communication plan. His decision faced significant backlash, especially given the fact that many believe the sirens could have saved hundreds.
Andaya reasoned that the siren systems were predominantly used for tsunami warnings. He mentioned that Hawaiians are conditioned to seek higher ground when hearing these sirens. Thus, activating them during the wildfire would have potentially led residents towards the danger.
It's worth noting that this isn't the first time Andaya has been skeptical about the island's siren systems. In fact, according to NBC News, he had a track record of downplaying the sirens' importance in previous years.
Meeting transcripts from the county's public safety commission revealed that he consistently referred to the siren system as "a last resort," especially after some sirens failed monthly tests.
During a press conference, a reporter presented evidence that several wildfire survivors believed their loved ones could have been saved if the sirens had been activated before the blaze reached their homes.
Gov. Josh Green hosted a mid-week press conference in which Andaya's qualifications came into question. Responding to the scrutiny, Andaya defended his prior experience:
Had we sounded the siren that night, we're afraid that people would have gotten mauka [toward the mountains] and if that was the case, then they would have gone into the fire. I should also note that there are no sirens mauka, or on the mountainside, where the fire was spreading down. So even if we sounded the siren, we would not have saved those people out there on the mountainside.
While another journalist pointed out Andaya's lack of prior experience in emergency management before 2017, the chief responded by referencing his tenure in the housing department and as a staffer in the mayor's cabinet.
Both Green and Maui Mayor Richard Bissen came to Andaya's defense against these claims. The governor even mentioned that his first thought upon hearing sirens would be a tsunami warning, not a fire.
The aftermath of the wildfire is grim. Green confirmed that the death toll has reached 110, but with only 38% of the impacted territory searched, this number is expected to rise.
There is a mounting fear about the number of children among the casualties. Due to school closures on the day of the fire, many children were home alone, making them especially vulnerable to the fast-spreading flames.
Jessica Sill, a local kindergarten teacher, commented on the tragedy, saying:
Without school, there was nowhere for [kids] to go that day.
The community is still reeling, but there are small signs of recovery. Public schools on Maui have begun to reopen, and traffic on major roads has resumed.