by James Delhauer
What does solidarity mean to you? How about community?
On August 8, a series of wildfires had broken out on the island on Maui. More than 17,000 acres of land burned. More than 2,200 buildings, mostly single-family homes, were destroyed and more than 100 people lost their lives. Though mass evacuations took place, thousands were stranded without homes or shelters and thousands more were left without power or access to clean water. The Hawaiian government had declared a state of emergency and federal resources were deployed to assist the Hawaiian people, but the crisis was ongoing.
The members of Hawaii Local 665 are not first responders by trade. They aren’t trained to take charge in a disaster zone. But that’s exactly what they did when the need arose. When the fires broke out, Local 665 President and IATSE International Trustee Tuia’ana Scanlan ended his vacation in order to come home and help his community. Communications infrastructure was devastated by the fires. At first, it was difficult to assess whether his members on the island were safe or not. So, in what can only be described as a true showing of solidarity, members throughout Hawaii stepped up to do what they could to help.
Several members located on Oahu, Victor Loranzo; Kahi Logan; and Kaipu Seales, all used personal boats to shuttle emergency supplies to Maui. Member Dave Dahlberg owns a tree-removal business and, with the assistance of Member Dave Reyes, went in and began clearing the land of dead trees in order to prevent the fire from spreading further and to free those who had been trapped in their homes by trees that had been knocked down by high winds. In the aftermath of the blaze, the Aloha Event Lighting Company, owned by 665 rigger Mike Carreno, supplied emergency lighting and power distribution to support evacuee refuge centers. These efforts were assisted by Member Joseph Arias, who served as the boots on the ground coordinator for 665’s Maui effort. Local 665 Business Agent Irish helped coordinate donations from the wardrobe department from Magnum P.I. to clothe those who had been displaced by the fires while Tui worked with Maui City Councilmembers Keani Rawlins-Fernandez and Yuki-Lei Sugimura to coordinate with the Lahaina Ice Company to provide fresh water for people.
In short, IATSE Local 665 moved mountains to be of service when disaster struck.
In the immediate aftermath of the fires, the top priorities were food, power, and communications equipment. Federal aid provided through FEMA and donations from across the country soon helped address the first two, but with so much physical infrastructure destroyed, establishing clear lines of communication was a greater challenge. This is where Local 695 came into play.
On Saturday, August 12, I received a call from Local 695 President Jillian Arnold.
“Tui needs help,” she told me.
I had met Tui and several of his members the month before at the union’s District 2 Conference in Hawaii. As president of the hosting Local, Tui had kindly welcomed guests from California, Nevada, and Arizona for the event. He, Jillian, and I had bonded over our shared alma mater of Chapman University and the man had quickly earned my respect as both a leader in his community and as a kind, artistic person.
Over the next several hours, Jillian, Local 695 Treasurer Phil Palmer, and I began sourcing emergency comms devices that would work in a disaster zone. Ultimately, we settled on a series of ICOM Iridium satellite radios commonly used by disaster responders and had them shipped directly to Tui’s home address on Hawaii.
“Those radios came in huge,” Tui told me when I spoke to him a few weeks later. “They cut down on the amount of time it took to reestablish communications and probably saved lives. Our Local was able to coordinate just like on a set. Everyone was there to find a need and fill it, just like a stagehand should. It was pretty harrowing to start. It felt like the first day on a ninety-day shoot in a really difficult location. You get through day one with all these difficult logistics and then you get it done. And everybody cheers. And then you realize, you have another eighty-nine days to go. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Through the efforts of Local 665, its members, all of Hawaii’s first responders, and all of those who have lent support to the cause since the fires are to be commended, this disaster has highlighted systemic vulnerabilities in the state’s preparedness; something Tui was quick to point out in our discussions. “We weren’t prepared for something like this and we need to be. Climate change means these sorts of things are going to happen more and more. How do we prepare for next time, so we don’t fumble it like we did this time? How do we learn from our mistakes and have people ready to go before a problem so you don’t have to figure it out on the fly? We need to fix it in prep, not in post, so to speak.”
This raises an excellent point and is an excellent question that everyone should be asking themselves. Throughout the world, we’ve seen the rise of natural disasters as a result of climate change. In the past ten years, we’ve seen everything from droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and tsunamis as the global median temperature continues to rise. Though governments have been slow to act, the situation in Maui highlights that we, the people, cannot be. That is why every person should take the initiative to invest in some sort of disaster training. In a crisis, there are so many different skill sets that can be of value. The efforts of our brothers, sisters, and kin in Local 665 have shown us that. So, look to your own home; to your own community. What dangers and disasters are most likely to occur near you and what can you do to prepare? What can you do to become a leader when catastrophe strikes so that the worst of the worst can be mitigated or averted?
Six months later, the effects of the fires continue to be felt. Though reconstruction efforts are well underway, current estimates suggest that full reconstruction could take up to a decade and will cost more than $5.5 billion. What’s more, many residents will find themselves on the hook for mortgages for houses that no longer exist when the moratorium on foreclosures expires in May and local businesses that had just managed to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic are once again in jeopardy.
“The biggest need I see that I don’t see a way of filling is a way for people to recover from the trauma,” Tui told me. “A lot of the Polynesian men will take it on the chin, push down their feelings, and just move on. Which will make things worse. Many of these people didn’t have a chance to stand up for or protect their families because how do you protect from a fire? We need to talk about our stories as a group. Even when everything is rebuilt, the trauma will still be there and need to be dealt with.”
So, this is where we ask ourselves, “How can we help now?”
When I asked him the same question, Tui’s answer was a contemplative one. “Hawaii’s reliance on tourism can be bad business,” he told me. “But for the time being, we’re reliant on it. We need to get tourism going again and we need to support locally owned businesses that are struggling. That’s the best way to help families in need right now. But if you’re going to come visit, please take the time to volunteer and help with support efforts.”
To elaborate, the Hawaiian economy has been predominantly driven by tourism since before it became a state in 1959. This is understandable. Anyone who has been there can tell you that it is one of the most beautiful and serene places in the world. However, many of the corporate interests profiting from this tourist-driven economy are not native, or even based in Hawaii. Money made on the island is often shepherded back to the mainland, depriving the state of its natural resources without any benefit to the local economy or its people. Though recognition of this fact has grown in recent years, the fact remains that Hawaii is not the primary benefactor of its own economy and its people continue to be exploited by other interests.
Thankfully, there are resources available for those wishing to support Hawaii and Maui’s reconstruction efforts in an ethical manner. Those looking to support the local economy and locally owned businesses should visit www.shopmauilocal.org. This site provides a list of locally owned businesses in need of support following the devastation of the fires. This includes businesses with online and worldwide shipping components, meaning even those who cannot afford to travel can help reconstruction efforts by buying from those struggling to rebuild. In the event that you can travel, consider visiting Maui and staying in a locally owned hotel such as the Inn at Mama’s Fish House, the Hana Inn, the Kula Lodge, the Ho’oilo House Bed and Breakfast, or the Paia Inn. All five of these businesses have reopened following the fires and are in need of customers in order to provide for the families who own them and the families of their employees. Those looking to donate to reconstruction efforts or volunteer their time while on the island can visit www.mauinuistrong.info.
I would like to thank Tui Scanlan for taking the time to speak with me in preparation for this article and to congratulate him on his recent appointment as an IATSE International Trustee. I would also like to commend him, the members of IATSE Local 665, and all of those who offered their time, energy, and support to the relief efforts in Hawaii. Unions are built upon the core principle that we are stronger together. Though there is a long road ahead before the damage is fully repaired, our union’s show of solidarity was a show of strength.