Residents in Lahaina, Maui, who narrowly escaped a devastating wildfire that has killed at least 53 people, have questioned why Hawaii’s emergency warning system did not alert them to the approaching flames. The state boasts the largest integrated outdoor all-hazard public safety warning system in the world, but many survivors said they did not hear any sirens and only realized they were in danger when they saw the flames or heard explosions. The county used emergency alerts sent to mobile phones, televisions, and radio stations, but it is unclear if these were sent before power and cellular outages occurred. News Herald reported
Residents of Maui who narrowly escaped the devastating wildfires that destroyed their homes and claimed the lives of at least 53 people have questioned why Hawaii’s emergency warning system failed to notify them of the approaching danger. Despite Hawaii’s claim to have the world’s largest outdoor all-hazard public safety warning system, with approximately 400 sirens spread across the islands, many survivors in the town of Lahaina reported that they did not hear any sirens and were only alerted to the fire when they saw flames or heard explosions nearby. Thomas Leonard, a retired mailman, was unaware of the fire until he smelled smoke and had to abandon his Jeep and flee on foot to the shore. The fire, fueled by dry conditions and strong winds, caught Maui off guard and rapidly spread across the island, causing widespread devastation. The fire is the deadliest natural disaster in Hawaii since a tsunami in 1960 and the deadliest wildfire in the United States since the 2018 Camp Fire in California. Lahaina was identified as a high-risk area for wildfires in Maui County’s hazard mitigation plan, which also noted the town’s limited ability to receive and respond to emergency warnings due to factors such as power outages and language barriers. The firefighting efforts were also hindered by a small staff and a lack of off-road vehicles. The fire moved so quickly that it was impossible to communicate warnings to emergency management agencies. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for Lahaina residents, while tourists were told to shelter in place. However, downed power poles blocked two important roads, complicating the evacuation process. Communication on the island has been unreliable, with 911, landline, and cellular services failing at times. President Joe Biden declared a major disaster on Maui and promised immediate assistance to those affected. Tourists were advised to leave the island, and efforts were made to assist them in arranging travel home..