Local tech groups got Maui wildfire victims back online after they lost cellular service

When the Lahaina fire broke out, the community lost power and cellular service leaving many residents unable to contact loved ones.
Published: Aug. 27, 2023 at 1:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A community driven initiative helped Lahaina wildfire survivors get back online, days after they lost power and cellular service.

Now about 500 Starlink terminals are up and running across Maui, some on mobile trucks, to keep residents connected.

Bernice Kissinger, vice president of defense tech nonprofit Pacific Impact Zone, joined HNN’s Sunrise Weekends to talk about the tech connectivity program born out of the ashes of the Lahaina disaster.

“All of us are local, many of us around Oahu, so we had the privilege of having time and space to think about what Maui residents need immediately and we were very lucky cause we have a network of Maui leads and they have this incredible tight community that knows exactly where elements need to be deployed,” Kissinger said.

The effort is a collaboration between Pacific Impact Zone, SMX, Maui Tech Hui, Maui Economic Development Board, Privateer Space, Alpha Construction, and others with a mission to improve communications during natural disasters.

Pacific Impact Zone says the joint force is an effective model between nonprofits, private companies, government agencies and the local community.

SMX, one of their partners, is a technology company focused on deploying communication in remote areas and is a partner of SpaceX, which operates telecommunication satellites.

“They are continuing to work to distribute, make sure that they are safe, that the equipment is safe, being able to monitor and maintain the equipment. The contributions… The donations were for free service for a number of months so they are really on site. The technicians are showing that this is getting out there, distributed and maintained,” Kissinger added.

Kissinger said it took only three days to get the equipment on site. Their current spots for connectivity are in Lahaina and Olowalu.