Maui County has filed a lawsuit against Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Spectrum Mobile over an alleged failure to notify emergency management officials of network outages during last year's wildfires.

In a statement, the county said it "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 8-9, 2023, during the height of the county’s emergency response to the fires."

Wildfires caused devastation in Hawaii last year – Wikimedia/Master Sgt. Andrew Jackson

The County noted that Federal law requires 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."

Last year's wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, claimed the lives of at least 101 people, and caused an estimated $5.5 billion worth of damage, according to the National Center for Environmental Information (NCEI).

The wildfires caused significant damage to cell sites across the island, hampering communication between residents and emergency services, as 911 services had been down for users.

“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.

According to the County, as part of its response to the fires, it sent a direct text message to disseminate important evacuation information, with at least 14 such alerts dispatched.

However, the County said it discovered that several 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 outages. 

The County accuses the carriers of "failing to report service outages to the county, and this failure impacted the county’s emergency response on August 8-9, 2024."

None of the companies named in the lawsuit have responded publicly.

In response to the wildfires, AT&T deployed its AT&T Network Disaster Recovery (NDR) team and FirstNet Response Operations Group (ROG).

The telco deployed a portable cell site in Lahaina to provide Band 14 connectivity dedicated to public safety and service for residents, while Verizon engineers also supported restoration efforts, with its Verizon Response team.

T-Mobile also sent out its emergency teams, heavy-duty trucks, and generators on the ground in Maui.