Backgrounds of Maui Officials Who Failed During Devastating Fire Are Scandalous

(Matthew Thayer/The Maui News via AP)

Beneath every government failure typically lies a laundry list of officials who never should have been in their jobs in the first place. 

That proved true during and after Hurricane Katrina slammed into Mississippi and Louisiana in 2005, with the devastation in New Orleans becoming a national scandal. Now, the aftermath of the horrific fire in Maui, Hawaii, is following the same frustrating path. 


CBS News is reporting that the emergency operations chief of the area, Herman Andaya, had no experience in emergency management. 

It was ultimately Andaya's decision to not sound the emergency alert sirens, which had previously been touted as the most complete system of its kind in the world. Instead, they used cell phone alerts, ignoring that many people, including children, may have had no ability to receive them. 

What was Andaya's background? He was a guy with a liberal arts degree who served as chief of staff for a small-time politician.

Trained in political science and the law, he has no formal education in disaster preparedness or response. And prior to his current role, he never held a full-time job dedicated to emergency management. 

Instead, his main qualification was being chief of staff to then-mayor Alan Arakawa. But in that role, he told Civil Beat Tuesday, he assisted during emergency operations. And he said he participated in online FEMA trainings and workshops throughout the years. 

 In 2017, Andaya beat out 40 other applicants for the job, Maui Now reported at the time. 


The idea that Andaya, with his total lack of experience legitimately beat out those 40 applications seems incredibly unlikely. Instead, this sure seems like yet another case of political favoritism putting friends in positions of power instead of those with the ability to actually do a good job. As to the claim that he took "online FEMA trainings," that's fairly meaningless. I've taken online FEMA trainings. They don't exactly prepare you to manage a major natural disaster.

It's not just Andaya's history that is raising eyebrows, though. It turns out the police chief in Maui was also the police commander of the Las Vegas strip during the historically deadly mass shooting that took place there in 2017.

Maui Police Chief John Pelletier repeatedly urges “patience, prayers and perseverance” as teams painstakingly search the ashes in the seaside community of Lahaina for the remains of scores of victims from the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than 100 years. 

It’s the kind of message he has used before, in the aftermath of another American tragedy: the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that left 58 dead and hundreds injured.

I'm not suggesting that Pelletier is directly responsible for the shooting that occurred. Certainly, there were major mistakes made during and in the aftermath that were ultimately his responsibility, but achieving perfection from law enforcement is not an attainable goal. Still, it is striking that someone could go from presiding over such a failure to essentially being promoted to police chief in another city. 


Other examples like this are likely to emerge in the coming weeks regarding the Maui fire just as happened with Hurricane Katrina. Too often, people are put in positions of power because of their connections and not their merits. That can lead to deadly results, either directly or indirectly.


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