Breaking: County of Maui files complaint against cell carriers alleging failure to report outages during August 2023 fires

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Aerial image of the Kaiaulu o Kupuohi Apartments, posted on the County of Maui Facebook page on Aug. 10, 2023. The county posted several road closure and evacuation notices to their Facebook page on Aug. 8. PC: County of Maui.

The County of Maui filed a third-party complaint on Wednesday in the Circuit Court of the Second Circuit, State of Hawaiʻi, against Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile US, Spectrum Mobile, and AT&T related to the August 2023 Maui wildfires.

The complaint seeks to hold the cell carriers responsible for their alleged failure to properly inform the Maui Police Department “in a timely manner” of widespread cellular service outages on Aug. 8-9, 2023, “during the height of the county’s emergency response to the fires.”

County officials say federal law requires the cell carriers to immediately report service outages to the county’s 911-service operators, including the nature and geographic extent of the outage and the approximate length of the outage. 


“A timely and complete report is critical to the County’s ability to mitigate the impacts of a service outage during emergencies,” said County of Maui Corporation Counsel Victoria Takayesu.

As part of its emergency response on Aug. 8-9, 2023, the county utilized direct text messaging to disseminate important evacuation information. County officials say “at least 14 such alerts were sent; however, the county later discovered that many of these alerts were not received by citizens, residents and visitors because cell towers across the island—including all 21 cell towers servicing Lahaina—were experiencing widespread cellular service outages.”

Shortly after midnight on Aug. 9, 2023, a Facebook post was made by the County of Maui indicating that 911 service was not available in West Maui, with an alternate phone number offered for emergency calls.


The complaint states that despite their federally-mandated duty to do so, the cell carriers failed to report service outages to the county, and this failure impacted the county’s emergency response on Aug. 8-9, 2024.

The county is currently defending multiple lawsuits criticizing its emergency response during the August 2023 Maui wildfires.


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