Former MPD assistant chief: Agency didn’t follow its own ‘all hazard’ plan in Lahaina disaster
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nearly two months after a ferocious fire tore through Lahaina, a recently retired Maui police commander is raising doubts about whether the Maui Police Department followed its own emergency action plan during the disaster.
He also questions if a second operations center, manned by Maui’s chief of police, slowed the sharing of critical information — a claim MPD Chief John Pelletier disputes.
MPD Assistant Chief Clyde Holokai retired from the department last year after serving nearly three decades on the force. When asked why it was important for law enforcement’s response to be coordinated with the fire department and the county’s response, Holokai responded, “Especially in a situation like this, time is lives.”
Holokai is questioning whether Pelletier followed the department’s own “all hazard plan.”
He says the plan is kind of like a playbook that provides step-by-step instructions on how to respond to large-scale disasters. “It’s one of those general orders that we always remind our people to familiarize themselves with,” Holokai told HNN Invsetigates.
Holokai believes the Maui Police Department did not follow its “all hazard plan” as the disaster unfolded.
When asked why, he responded: “Because of the way the Emergency Operations Center had been set up. Up until this point, the Office of the Chief is to man the EOC. And that includes the chief of police, the deputy and a senior assistant chief.”
MPD confirmed Pelletier was not at the county’s Emergency Operations Center during the disaster. Instead, the department says he sent a lieutenant and later an assistant chief.
Meanwhile, the department said Pelletier was at police headquarters with several members of his command staff setting up the department’s Operations Center.
That’s a task Holokai says is typically taken care of by an assistant chief — so the Chief along with other members of the Office of the Chief are available to work directly with the county and leaders of other emergency response agencies.
He says having the right people collaborating together in the same room is crucial.
“If you’re not used to being in that type of situation, at the very least it’s going to be inefficient,” Holokai said. “And if you’re not of the rank, then you can’t command another officer across a different Bureau to take action immediately.
At a recent Police Commission meeting, Pelletier told commissioners, “We had phenomenal partnership integration (at the DOC)” and he added the set-up “worked really well.”
He added other law enforcement officials were there too.
“We had the Sheriff’s over. They were in our DOC with us. Their leadership were. And the Sheriff’s were out supporting the missions where we needed them,” said Pelletier.
HNN Investigates asked Pelletier to do an interview for this story but he declined due to a scheduling conflict. In an email, we asked him if he thought not being at the Emergency Operations Center in any way slowed emergency response efforts.
We didn’t get a clear yes or no answer.
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Instead, a the chief’s spokesperson responded, saying in part, “due to the rapid, dynamic evolving situation, it was appropriate for Chief Pelletier to assist in establishing the DOC.”
Holokai says the fact that so many decision makers were spread out at different locations likely slowed sharing of critical information. “That’s going to cause problems,” Holokai said. “And at the very least, a lag in response time.”
It’s insight that could further explain the apparent breakdown in communication among agencies within the county and state during the disaster.
For example, during the 6 p.m. news on Aug. 8, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said, “I’m happy to report that the road is open to and from Lahaina.”
But at that point, much of the town was already on fire and people were jumping into the ocean to try and escape the flames.
In a news conference two weeks later, the mayor made a troubling admission when asked who was calling the shots as Lahaina burned. “I’m not sure who was in charge,” he said.
HNN Investigates has confirmed the head of Maui’s Emergency Management Agency wasn’t in the EOC either. He left Maui the day prior to the disaster amid fire warnings to attend a FEMA conference in Waikiki.
Bissen went on to say in that same news conference, “Herman Andaya (MEMA’s administrator) was still in charge. He just wasn’t present. He was in contact with his team I guess by phone. I don’t know exactly how.”
The mayor who said he was in the EOC during the fire and the head of the state’s emergency management agency who’s based on Oahu also revealed they had no idea anyone had died until the day after the blaze.
HNN Investigates asked Holokai to describe what its like in the EOC during an emergency.
He said, “You have the police radio going on. So you can hear first hand what’s going on in the field with our officers. You’re there with the head of every agency. You can hear what’s going on with the fire department (radios), with the medics (radios).”
He says officials there also have access to the computer aided dispatch system.
“So you can read and you can see who is at what place. What traffic posts they’re at.” Holokai said.
When asked if there was any reason why someone in the EOC wouldn’t know what’s happening in the field Holokai responded, “No, there shouldn’t be any reason.”
HNN asked MPD if it followed its “all hazard plan” in response to the Lahaina Fire.
The Department’s response was vague, saying many protocols were followed. A spokesperson added our question would “be addressed in the After Action Report, which will cover what went right, what went wrong and how we can improve.”
The department says it will take at least a year and a half before the full report is complete.
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