Some Thoughts On Maui And Emergency Management

The disaster on Maui has been years in the making, and has nothing to do with climate change. It has everything to do with incompetence in our elites and power seeking in politics. Emergency Management is not immune to this unfortunately, and I think is headed for a very bad place.

From the start, let me say that I’ve never had to manage a major disaster. For that, I do sincerely give thanks. My first real career job was at a military R&D center, where the office I worked in was part of emergency operations. Got to know the Emergency Management team, and learned a lot working with them. They helped me get our office ready for emergencies with “crash kits” distributed to team members and things we might need electronically stored in multiple places for access at need.

The driver for this was a mishap at the center one night that almost knocked me out of bed ten miles away. A phone call to security resulted in my making a very fast trip in to base, a search for the one crash kit available at the time, and later realizing at the ops center that it needed upgrading and updating. Hadn’t been a priority for my boss at the time, and afterwards I was told to make it happen and do it right as the big bosses were now watching. Amidst all the attaboys for what I did, got a quiet “oh shit” from said Boss who felt that while what I had done had indeed gotten us a lot of attaboys, good exposure, and made the office look good, that it had made him look bad… Ah well, that’s life. Meantime, I became our point person on the incident and recovery efforts.

So, I got earmarked as “that guy” you sent to classes, workshops, and meetings on disaster preparedness and emergency management. That continued in several jobs, and when I served a (sadly abbreviated) hitch in the Indiana Guard Reserve (State Guard, not National) I had fun with a lot of the disaster preparedness/response and emergency management component. Like many, I earned my basic Military Emergency Management Systems (MEMS) badge, part of which included doing all the coursework for becoming an On Scene Commander. Doing the shadowing, practicums, and other to get the advanced MEMS and actually serve as an On Scene Commander was cut short by my aborted embed to Afghanistan and then moving out of state.

To say I have mixed emotions about the FEMA emergency management system is a bit of an understatement. It is very top-down, buttoned up, by-the-numbers where initiative is not really appreciated. When I semi-self deployed all those years ago (Sir, I can’t tell you to come in but…), all but my boss applauded. Today, it would have me sent home and quite possibly up for discipline if not charges. Nothing gets done without the approval and/or order of the On-Scene Commander. Anyone attempting to render aid or do pretty much anything to help those in the declared area that are not fully under the control of Emergency Management will be run off or arrested. I thought at the time there was a lot of “we are the experts and in charge” to the system, and I’ve heard it’s gotten worse.

Thing is, I can understand some of the stated reason for such control. Some of it even makes sense in an active situation, at least to some extent. You don’t want something done to make things worse, or to have people go into areas where they or others could get hurt or killed. That said, it only works if the people in charge are competent, in communication, and on the ball. There are some good people in DP and Emergency Management. They do amazing things. Then, there are others who are not.

I can’t write what I would like to write about the apparent situation with Maui (and Hawai’i) DP/EM. I need to start by saying that years back, Hawai’i DP/EM was on the ball. They had plans and preparations, backups to the backups to the backups, and they practiced and drilled to check and double check. Don’t know if anyone that I might have known is still there, but it sure appears that none of the old school was present in the Maui office. You had a director with no DP/EM experience, and who was proud he didn’t sound the sirens that could have saved lives. You have someone over water who feels it should be revered and worshiped, not used. The failure to activate the sirens and the failure to release the water in a timely manner directly resulted in more than 100 deaths, possibly hundreds. Frankly, they should both already be decorating lamposts as this is far beyond tar, feathers, and a rail.

Nor did it happen by accident. Hate to say it, but at this level, leadership and operations are a political matter. These people didn’t earn the positions; rather, they had to be appointed or otherwise selected through a political process. How else would one get a “leader” who had no background or experience in DP/EM?

Want to know why the official response to the fire is getting so many complaints? EM is the bottleneck, and X, Y, and Z must be done though A, B, and C are needed and available. Bring the Feds into the mix, and it’s like adding concrete to the trickle. Add politics and incompetence to that mix, and, it’s a good thing the Citizens are responding. They see or are told M needs N at O right now, and they get N and take it O without the drama or approvals. Centralized control may be the best option as the disaster is occurring. May. A distributed network is far more responsive and effective in the aftermath.

BTW, anyone willing to take a bet on the lead-up to this? I’m very much reminded of California not all that long ago. Power company forced to spend money on things important to the politicians, not on maintenance and fire prevention. Add in “environmental” regulations that not only did not do what they were supposed to do, but built up the materials that fuel the fires… I will make a cash bet right now that the same thing happened in Maui.

Years ago, it was pointed out by some smart people that if you let natural fires happen and burn, you got a lot less damage and healthier forests. It was tried, it worked, and certain people and groups pitched a fit. So, back to the old way. What happened? Far worse fires with lots more damage. When it comes to areas around people, clear the hazards, keep it maintained, and don’t be stupid. But, all too often, you can’t clear that brush or other hazard, that’s the habitat of the dodderingmealticket. What happens? Disaster.

I’m told that in Maui, which has fires every year, the locals had warned the government that something needed to be done. That the wet spring led to an overabundance of grass and such, and that it needed to be cleared. Nothing was done. Not then, not when it got dry. Not even when they knew the winds were coming. Willing to bet that if anyone had tried to do anything, the government would have prevented it. Now the government is talking about buying up all that prime land. Any bets on how fast it ends up in the hands of the politicians developer pals and donors? Yeah, I am a bit cynical…

I hope all those responsible for this preventable disaster are held accountable. Don’t expect it, but still hope. It’s up to the people to publicize and mock. No, it won’t do a thing to stop them after the fact. It’s not about them. It’s about those looking at this. It’s about making clear to them, particularly the younger, that this behavior is not acceptable and carries a high price. Pour encourager les autres.

In days of old, I would list some groups that did good work helping people after disasters here. Increasingly, I’m hearing, the feds are working hard to keep groups out (at least on the mainland) unless they agree to all the rules and regulations and to be controlled by the government. Not all are playing ball, and I’m not going to list them here. I don’t want to put a target on their back. I will say, research and pick your choices well. There’s a lot of scams, and a lot of roadblocks. Find the ones that aren’t scams and go around the roadblocks. Look for those in the distributed networks who are getting the right things done at the right time in the right place. Those are who you want and need to support.

Getting hit by lightning is not fun! If you would like to help me in my recovery efforts, which include moving once we have medical issues cleared up, feel free to hit the fundraiser at A New Life on GiveSendGo, use the options in the Tip Jar in the upper right, or drop me a line to discuss other methods. It is thanks to your gifts and prayers that I am still going. Thank you.

2 thoughts on “Some Thoughts On Maui And Emergency Management”

  1. One other point: In the old days a lot of that west Maui land was agricultural, mostly sugar cane. The experienced field managers knew what they were about and made sure they did their controlled burns after harvest safely, with lots of folks on hand to keep them contained. Plus they did not have power lines strung through everywhere as sugar cane oddly does not need electricity.
    But the cane fields, and their experienced managers, are gone, and those lands are now either fallow or developed with housing, including power lines. And then local politics gets somebody’s cousin that open job in government where the experienced person retired. And overlay that with “Hawaii Time” on doing anything and you get what they got.

    1. Good points. Over at Legal Insurrection, Leslie Eastman has a good post up confirming a lot of my suspicions and some of what you are pointing out.

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