Maui is vulnerable to natural disasters and man-made shutdowns

Maui is vulnerable to natural disasters and man-made shutdowns

Maui is vulnerable to natural disasters and man-made shutdowns, and economic slowdowns. Not just because we have a tourism-based economy. But because our basic systems for infrastructure and support have been weakened by decades of neglect. We have not re-invested in basic infrastructure, support services, and community projects. 

Our island home is NOT like the mainland, because of our geographical isolation we cannot easily ship in supplies from neighboring towns and states. We have natural barriers that restrict our access to supplies. We need to be much more independent in order to be sufficiently resilient. 

Our ports and airports where our supplies come through are vulnerable, and cause choke points in supply chains. Airports can be closed due to weather, hurricanes, volcanic activity, and terrorist threats, and fires. Etc. Ports can be damaged by large waves, fires, tsunamis, and man-made situations such as terror threats, shipping restrictions, and labor disruptions, such as strikes and labor shortages. 

Our environment is at risk. Our community is at risk, and our culture and archeology are at risk: One theme that runs through any disaster story on Maui is that we were not adequately prepared for any disaster, either natural or man-made.

We are not prepared for climate change, sea level rise. Much of our basic services and infrastructure runs along the coast close to the ocean where it can be damaged by large waves , flood events, and Sea Level rise.

We are not prepared for tsunamis, lack of evacuation routes for population centers, and high-density populations living in the hazard zones.

We already have quite a few regulations designed to strengthen our resilience to these disasters such as zoning laws, and rules against living on the ground floors of structures in the tsunami and flood zones. But these are not enforced. Or they are ignored, or they are Waived, or expedited away. 

For Example, Governor Green recently bypassed all environmental protections and cultural protections when he proclaimed a fast-track rule for housing. This bypasses protections for the environment, archaeology, and culture, and reduces the need to comply with zoning and planning regulations relating to Fire and Safety. 

We have too few legal protections for the natural infrastructures, and land features that control and regulate our flooding, such as gulches, streambeds, and wetlands. Protecting these would help us to be flood resistant, and flood tolerant, But they are not properly protected.

We have allowed our island to become vulnerable to food shortages and become dependent on imported food and goods. When many of the daily staples are grown here or could be grown here.  When travel is restricted, flights canceled, or harbors are damaged in storms. Our food supply is in jeopardy. And travel and flow of essential items is limited.

On Maui, we face a number of natural threats, such as Hurricanes, Flooding, tsunamis, Storm Surges, large wave events, wildfires, earthquakes, and volcanic events. That impacts our ability to function and provide basic services to our population.

Lack of Hospitals: We do not have enough hospitals, and the hospital is not accessible when the road to the westside is closed. We need a second hospital on the west side, and maybe another one in South Maui.

Lack of a living Wage: The minimum wage and living wage are vastly dissimilar. On Maui, the Minimum Wage is $10.50/hr whereas the living wage is closer to $20/25 dollars per hour. This is a fundamental problem as low-income families are slowly drained of their savings and resources which drives them to the poverty line, and makes them vulnerable to financial setbacks. Such As medical bills, Job instability, or loss. 

Lack of Community Infrastructure:  Power lines, roads, drainage systems, stormwater systems, flood control, sewage systems, and water systems, are all community infrastructure that we all rely on. When there is a stressor these systems are found lacking and can break down more easily. There is little or no money invested to maintain these systems, let alone improve them and expand them to keep pace with increasing demand and population growth. 

South Maui traffic Bottleneck: We have inadequate access to roads for all of South Maui, the 2 road system often fails when there is a fire or accident. (We just heard that the North-south collector road may be partially finished in 2027).

Our water supply is vulnerable to contamination and water shortages.  We are already experiencing restrictions and closures for water systems upcountry and on the westside due to contamination and lack of water.  The south side is almost wholly-dependant on Wailuku’s water. Water demands are steadily increasing due to climate change, as plants and crops need more water as temperatures rise. 

High-wind and Hurricanes: Hurricanes create exceptionally strong winds that not only put structures at risk, but also disrupt traffic, transport, and normal activity. Hurricanes can bring the most devastating rains and flooding. Maui’s mountainous terrain creates extreme downslope winds that are forced through valleys that create extreme fire dangers. We do not have the ability to fight wildfires that are fanned by strong winds.  Our electrical infrastructure is vulnerable to strong winds, and fire. 

Our power poles and transformers are known to start fires when they are blown over. (when the California power companies were sued for starting fires, they started shutting off power during storms to minimize the risk of fires, but they also put the communities they serve at risk as power shortages stop electronic communications that are necessary for warning people in a natural disaster.  

Kona Storms:  these are more frequent than hurricanes and are dangerous and damaging, especially to leeward communities. These storms are forecast to become more severe and extreme with ongoing climate change

Drought: We are experiencing a 10-year drought, due to climate change as well as ongoing changes in land use. Over the last century or more, we have allowed our landscapes to become de-watered. Once lush areas of rainforest and wetlands were deprived of water for sugar cane and now for golf courses, resorts, and housing. Drought changes the climate and degrades the soils, and increases erosion. Decision-makers and planners have allowed massive amounts of public water to be diverted into private hands. These water diversions are repurposing has impacted many natural systems, including streamlife, and the ecology of entire watersheds. This is not only a tragedy for the natural areas and ecosystems, but it also impacts our populated areas. And degrades agricultural lands as well as makes the watershed more prone to flash floods, erosion, landslides, and mudslides. 

Wildfires: We do not have enough firefighters or equipment to deal with large wildfires. We continue to build our communities in high-risk fire zones, and we constantly fail to create fire-breaks and require fire-barriers. We build houses too close together, and we do not provide a good water supply for firefighting. 

During the Lahaina and Kula Wildfires, our fire hydrants did not work because the water supply failed because it was electrically driven. We need gravity-fed water supplies that are independent of the power grid. 

We need more off-grid homes that have independent power supplies, this will make us a lot less vulnerable in power outages. We need more homes and rooftop solar systems with backup batteries. And more public facilities should be required to have backup generators.  

Social Services: We need far better social services that help the less fortunate, housless, and at-risk members of our community to have access to essential services. They need ongoing access to food, shelter, and basic health care. They also need places to go in an emergency. 

Emergency Shelters: We do not have proper emergency shelters on Maui. We have school gymnasiums. But we need to think about having proper emergency facilities with access to stockpiles of food and water and medical emergency services. They need to have Independent electrical systems, sanitization facilities, and water supplies. We need to build structures that are hurricane-proof, earthquake-proof. Out of reach of tsunamis. And ensure that they have the resources needed to properly shelter people in an emergency, until basic services have been restored. Let’s say they must have a minimum of two weeks (but better to have 1 month’s supply) of food supplies for the entire emergency capacity.  These structures can be designed as multi-purpose facilities that serve other purposes during non-emergencies.   Hotels and vacation rentals can be required to provide emergency shelter in a disaster. This can be legislated into the conditions for acquiring their permits. 

U.S. Coast Guard Hawai'i Pacific District 14, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
U.S. Coast Guard Hawai’i Pacific District 14, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons




Natural Hazards – Maui County


Hawaii Wildfires ─ Red Cross Helping Move Evacuees to Hotels


Videos put scrutiny on downed power lines as a possible cause of deadly Maui wildfires


Maui County General Plan 2030:


Limited Routes For Safe Evacuation Improved Public Outreach and Education “In several areas of the island there is only one access to get into or out of a region. For years this has been a problem for Lahaina travelers when there is a wildfire or a rockslide, and this limitation could be disastrous if a tsunami impacted the south and/or west-facing shores. Likewise, Hāna and East Maui are prone to being cut off from the rest of the island in the event of earthquakes or rockslides.”

As Inferno Grew, Lahaina’s Water System Collapsed. Firefighters who rushed to contain the Maui wildfire found that hydrants were running dry, forcing crews to embark instead on a perilous rescue mission.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the ratio of population per hospital in Hawaii is 1 hospital for every 20,000 population. But on Maui it is One-tenth (1/10th) of that.

Temperature extremes: Effect on plant growth and development


Experts say climate change is increasing the likelihood of these flash droughts as well as other extreme weather events like what’s playing out on the island of Maui, where scores of people have been killed and a historic town devastated.