May 1, 2024

County files complaint seeking to hold cell carriers responsible for failure to report outages during August 2023 fires

The County of Maui filed a third-party complaint today in the Circuit Court of the Second Circuit, State of Hawaiʻi, against Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile US, Spectrum Mobile, and AT&T (collectively, the “Cell Carriers”) related to the August 2023 Maui Fires. The complaint seeks to hold the Cell Carriers responsible for their failure to properly inform the Maui Police Department in a timely manner of widespread cellular service outages on August 8 to 9, 2023, during the height of the County’s emergency response to the fires. Federal law requires the Cell Carriers to immediately report service outages to the County’s 911-service operators, including the nature and geographic extent of the outage and the approximate length of the outage.

“A timely and complete report is critical to the County’s ability to mitigate the impacts of a service outage during emergencies,” said County of Maui Corporation Counsel Victoria Takayesu.

As part of its emergency response on August 8 to 9, 2023, the County utilized direct text messaging to disseminate important evacuation information. At least 14 such alerts were sent. However, the County later discovered that many of these alerts were not received by citizens, residents and visitors because cell towers across the island -- including all 21 cell towers servicing Lahaina -- were experiencing widespread cellular service outages. The complaint states that despite their federally-mandated duty to do so, the Cell Carriers failed to report service outages to the County, and this failure impacted the County’s emergency response on August 8-9, 2024.

The County is currently defending multiple lawsuits criticizing its emergency response during the August 2023 Maui Fires.

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