Maui seeks contractor to review MEMA’s Aug. 8 response

Lahaina, Maui, Thursday, August 11, 2023 - An aerial view of the aftermath of a wildfire that devastated greater Lahaina. (Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

County officials are seeking an outside agency to review the response of the Maui Emergency Management Agency during the Aug. 8 wildfires because they said the department currently has only two full-time employees.

MEMA has produced several after-action reports in recent years, including an internal draft following a wildfire during Tropical Cyclone Lane that burned homes and prompted evacuations in 2018. Additional details about the AARs produced since Tropical Cyclone Lane were not available Sunday, the county said in a statement.


The 2018 report was overseen by Herman Andaya, MEMA’s administrator during Tropical Cyclone Lane. Andaya also was MEMA’s administrator on Aug. 8 when fire leveled Lahaina, killing 101 people.

MEMA now has three part-time employees besides its two full-time employees. At full strength, MEMA is funded to employ nine full-time workers.

On May 8 the county issued a request for proposals to conduct an after-action report “assessing the coordination” of MEMA’s response to the fatal fires. The deadline to submit proposals was Friday.

Any potential contractor “understands that there may be significant public and media interest in the findings of the report,” according to the RFP, which continues, “If desired by the County, CONTRACTOR will develop both a public version and a ‘For Official Use Only’ version of the AAR.”

It “has not yet been determined” whether the county will produce a public version of the report and a separate document for internal use that will not be made public, Lois Whitney, county deputy director of communications and government affairs, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a statement.

The 2018 draft AAR was created by MEMA for official use only. It was released to the public in October following Uniform Public Information Act requests from multiple news organizations.

“During the (Aug. 8) incident, the MEMA worked diligently to mobilize resources, coordinate response activities, and ensure the safety of residents and visitors,” reads part of the county’s RFP pitch to outside contractors. “The agency collaborated closely with the local fire department, law enforcement agencies, and other key stakeholders to mitigate the impact of the wildfires and protect lives and property. However, the magnitude and complexity of the Maui Wildfires of August 2023 necessitate a comprehensive evaluation of the MEMA’s performance during the incident. An After-Action Report is crucial to assess the agency’s response effectiveness, identify strengths, and highlight areas for improvement.”

The assertion by county finance officials in the RFP that officials “worked diligently” during the crisis is not reflected in the first phase of the state attorney general’s investigation, which was released April 17 and details communication failures and a lack of leadership at MEMA.

To document individual tasks and events, including what happened in the Emergency Operations Center, formal Incident Command System forms are used to help build a minute-by- minute and hour-by-hour understanding of the emergency and response.

Fire Safety Research Institute investigators hired by the state attorney general for about $1.5 million reviewed ICS forms for Aug. 7-9 emergency response activities from the Maui Police Department, the county Department of Fire and Public Safety, the Department of the Corporation Counsel, the Maui Department of Agriculture and the office of Mayor Richard Bissen.

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