Nonprofit research organization to investigate state and county response to Maui wildfires
Hawaiʻi Attorney General Anne E. Lopez has selected UL’s Fire Safety Research Institute to assess the policies and performance of state and county agencies in preparation and response to the deadly and destructive Maui wildfires of Aug. 8, 2023.
The nonprofit research institute, which addresses the world’s unresolved fire safety risks and emerging dangers, will conduct the investigation of government agency actions “from up to and during the first 24 to 72 hours of the fire and its aftermath.”
“I am committed to an independent, unbiased and transparent investigation into government actions during the fires,” Lopez said in a press release. “I hear the frustration and understand that many have had their belief in government shaken by this unprecedented tragedy. It is crucial to preserve faith in government action by using science and sound investigative techniques to determine the facts.”
The investigation will be conducted in three phases, with the final report anticipated in approximately 12 months — in late 2024.
- Phase 1: Fact-finding about how the fire incident unfolded.
This phase will take approximately three months and include data gathering on important aspects of the incident. This phase will yield a comprehensive timeline of the time of ignition through the start of structure-to-structure spread, which will be the foundation of the analysis. (But it will not include an analysis of the cause of the ignition or re-ignition of the fire).
- Phase 2: Analysis of the data, determining how various fire protection systems functioned in this fire incident.
This phase should be completed in approximately six months and will yield an Incident Analysis Report that includes review of policies and actions of state and county agencies in preparing for and responding to the incident.
- Phase 3: Best practices that incorporate additional data and recommendations for Hawaiʻi to take action toward prevention.
This phase will yield a Forward-Looking Report to answer the question: “How do we prevent this from happening again?” It will include recommendations, strategies and tactical considerations from subject matter experts.
Once this phase is completed, approximately 12 months after the start of the investigation, a report of the findings and recommendations will be shared with the people of Hawaiʻi.
The Fire Safety Research Institute is working independently. But for the purpose of data and evidence sharing to streamline timeframes and avoid duplication of efforts, the fire institute also is working in parallel with other agencies, including local emergency response service providers and emergency management; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Department of Defense; FEMA; National Institute of Standards and Technology; and the United States Fire Administration.
After each phase, Lopez said she will share the findings with the public. Any additional time required of any of the phases also will be announced, with the intent of ensuring a thorough investigation.
Lopez also will share the recommendations directed to state and county agencies to prevent and better prepare communities for future disasters, according to the press release.
“We can improve our responsiveness and resilience,” she said. “Once the FSRI investigation is completed, our next step is to take decisive action to rectify any issues and develop new policies, procedures and necessary actions to save lives in the future.”
Dr. Steve Kerber, vice president and executive director of the fire institute, said in the press release: “The FSRI team grieves with Maui residents in their suffering caused by the recent devastating wildfires. We have been requested by the Attorney General to conduct an independent, broad-based analysis of the incident and will share our evidence-based learnings with the goal of answering stakeholder questions and preventing this type of tragedy from happening in the future.
“This will be accomplished by working closely with the Lahaina community, local emergency services, and federal, state and local organizations.”
The fire institute is part of the UL Research Institutes, with has researched safety issues and evaluated products to address fire, shock and casualty risk since 1894, the company said. The fire institute was stared in 2013.
If you have information, videos or photos of the fire that could be helpful to the investigation, you can email them to [email protected].
To learn more about the fire institute, go to: fsri.org.