Herman Andaya faced a mountain of criticism for his agency’s decision not to activate sirens that could have saved lives.

The chief of the Maui Emergency Management Agency, whose qualifications and performance were questioned amid a deadly fire in Lahaina, has resigned from his post.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said in a statement on Thursday that he had accepted Herman Andaya’s resignation, which Andaya issued “citing health reasons,” according to the county.

“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,” Bissen said.

Herman Andaya stands at the podium in the Mayors conference room in Wailuku
Herman Andaya appeared at an afternoon press conference in Wailuku on Wednesday. (Hawaii News Now/2023)

The resignation comes just one day after Andaya publicly stated he had no regrets about not activating emergency alert sirens that many community members feel could have saved lives last week. Many survivors of the Lahaina fire, which was spread quickly by strong winds, have said they had no warning the blaze was coming.

West Maui State Rep. Elle Cochran was one of them. Cochran said she only knew something was wrong when she smelled smoke from her home on Kanakea Loop, mauka of Lahaina’s historic center.

“I saw Lahaina light up before my eyes,” she said.

Cochran said she never got a warning, but she was able to escape since the winds were blowing makai, away from her home, which was spared from the flames. Others weren’t as fortunate and “got cattled into dead-end streets,” she said.

“I think sirens would’ve helped,” she said. “They would’ve had fair warning.” 

Andaya said his agency did activate warnings that pinged cell phones, broadcast stations and landlines, but the message wasn’t received by all as power was out and cell service was down in many areas.

He said sirens weren’t considered because the public perceives them as strictly for tsunami warnings. But the state and county websites refer to the sirens as an “all hazards” alert system that can be used for many types of incidents, including wildfires.

Civil Beat reported on Wednesday that Andaya had no formal education or prior work experience in emergency management or disaster response before taking charge of the department in 2017. He was hired into the civil service role after serving as chief of staff to former mayor Alan Arakawa.

Going forward, Cochran said the role needs to be filled by an expert.

“Someone who has experience with these types of disasters,” she said. “Someone who has been there, done that and has expertise and knows the steps to take immediately and well into the future.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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