Feb 5, 2024 - Science

Read: Maui police release report on response to deadly wildfires

 In an aerial view, a recovery vehicle drives past burned structures and cars two months after a devastating wildfire on October 09, 2023 in Lahaina, Hawaii.

An aerial view of burned structures in Lahaina, Hawai'i, in October — two months after a devastating wildfire swept the island of Maui. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Maui Police Department released a preliminary report Monday on authorities' response to the devastating wildfires that swept Hawai'i last August and razed the historic town of Lahaina.

The big picture: The Lahaina fire killed at least 100 people, and Maui Police Chief John Pelletier noted at a briefing announcing the "after-action" report that "the search is not over" for three people still listed as missing from the island's blaze that destroyed thousands of acres and structures.

  • The cause of the fire on Maui is still being investigated and this preliminary report analyzes the police's response to the tragedy and makes 32 recommendations for improvements to better prepare for any future catastrophe, as well as identifying what worked well.

What they found: The report finds that the Maui PD was understaffed as officers in the Lahaina District faced communications and equipment issues as they responded to "critical events" at the same time in multiple different locations issues, such as downed trees

  • "At most times, this radio traffic was being monitored by and responded to by a single dispatcher. ... on a typical day, radio channels will have at most 15 officers working over a single radio frequency," notes the report.
  • Officers responded to multiple safety hazard reports, including "downed trees, utility poles, power lines, debris on roads, power outages, non-functional traffic signals, and compromised cellular and internet services."
  • Fallen poles and debris blocked roads, leaving traffic gridlocked as the Lahaina fire spread, prompting a large-scale evacuation of "over a thousand people" at one center, many of whom. the report noted, were without vehicles.
  • Several disinformation campaigns were identified as the tragedy unfolded that put forth conspiracy theories to further confuse people seeking an accurate account of the fire response, per the report.

Key recommendations: The report recommends updating technology and implementing better equipment, including optional radio ear pieces for issue to all officers.

  • It proposes having a senior officer serve as liaison between dispatch and relay information to commanders in command posts a required.
  • The report also recommends equipping police patrol cars with breaching kits for downed trees and other debris that may block roadways and better briefing officers during responses.
  • Have a dedicated phone line other than 911 if another disaster occurs.

Of note: "Regular daily briefings played a pivotal role in fostering idea sharing, problem solving, introducing new members, and aligning everyone with the overall mission," the report states. "All this work was done under the pressure of a critical time element."

Read the report in full, via DocumentCloud:

Go deeper: How Maui is rebuilding its communities and economy after devastating wildfires

Go deeper