Just Security, August 2023
Maui’s devastating fires — striking at the heart of the ancient Hawaiian kingdom, Lahaina, where the community has quickly rallied together — should drive home the critical importance of close ties between neighbors and residents, as they remain the true first responders on the scene of most accidents. Even in a car accident or house fire, it is those closest to the event who show up, drag survivors away from danger, administer first aid and CPR, and alert authorities of the tragedy. And when major disasters occur, neighbors — not government officials — know who lives alone and who needs help moving away from a vulnerable place.
The true human and built environment costs from the Maui disaster are still being tallied. As of Aug. 16, at least 106 people were reported dead in the island-consuming blaze, and some 2,000 buildings, stores, and sacred places in the town of Lahaina burned to the ground. These numbers will likely change as search and rescue teams continue their work. But we already know important facts about the Maui fires which should help us prepare for future disasters: critical physical infrastructure systems failed and likely cost lives while social systems rallied, helping people escape and rapidly start the rebuilding process.