Maui Emergency Management Agency Administrator submits resignation effective immediately
August 17, 2023, 3:15 PM HST
* Updated August 30, 11:31 AM
Today Mayor Richard Bissen accepted the resignation of Maui Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) Administrator Herman Andaya.
Citing health reasons, Andaya submitted his resignation effective immediately.
“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 news release issued Thursday afternoon.
The announcement comes following an appearance at a press conference on Maui Wednesday afternoon in which the agency leader faced inquiries regarding protocols for public notification and explanation on why the siren system was not used.
Andaya said the County’s Emergency Operating Center was already under partial activation on Monday evening, Aug. 7, in response to a Kula fire, and subsequently went into full activation the next day. There was a Lahaina fire in the morning that was brought under control, and a subsequent fire that started in the afternoon.
During the press conference Andaya defended his experience, noting he was a member of the cabinet and served as Deputy Director of the Department of Housing and Human Concerns as well as a Chief of Staff during a prior administration. During those times, he said he would often report to the EOC and underwent numerous trainings as well.
“To say that I am not qualified, I think, is incorrect,” said Andaya. “In addition to that, when I applied for this position, which is by the way a civil service position, I went through a very arduous process. I was vetted, had to take a civil service exam, I was interviewed by seasoned emergency managers and they all deemed me qualified. In fact, I was selected”
When asked if he regrets not sounding the sirens, Andaya responded, “No. I do not.” He explained, “The sirens, as I had mentioned earlier, is 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 the siren is sounded. In fact, on the website of the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency, the following guideline is provided: If you are in a low laying area near the coastline; evacuate to high grounds, inland, or vertically to the 4th floor and higher of a concrete building. Alerts may also come in form of a Wireless Emergency Alert.”
While not mentioned, the list of Siren Facts on the HI-EMA website also states: “The all-hazard siren system can be used for a variety of both natural and human-caused events; including tsunamis, hurricanes, dam breaches, flooding, wildfires, volcanic eruptions, terrorist threats, hazardous material incidents, and more.”
Andaya said had the agency sounded the siren that night, “We’re afraid people would have gone mauka; and if that was the case, they would have gone into the fire. That is why our protocol has been to use WEA and EAS. By the way, I should also note that there are no sirens mauka on the mountainside where the fire was spreading down.”
Andaya said the EOC was in constant communication with the field. When asked when it became apparent the people were in imminent danger, he responded, “It was immediately.” He explained that he was attending a conference on Oʻahu during the incident, but was told by staff that they received information from the Battalion Chief who was in the EOC, that their crews were being overrun. At that point he said, evacuation notices were sent out.