As ravaging wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, have forced some federal agencies to shutter facilities and pause normal services, the Biden administration is deploying hundreds of federal employees to the area to assist with disaster response efforts.
Moreover, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently said in a social media post that he had "deployed specialized K-9s and handlers from Florida’s USAR [Urban Search & Rescue] teams to Maui."
He added that he had spoken with Hawaii Gov. Josh Green and had "offered any resources they may need in the coming days and weeks. Florida stands with the people of Hawaii."
Green responded on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, "Mahalo Governor for supporting us in our time of need."
President Biden arrived in Maui Monday, where reporters were told that Bob Fenton, currently a regional administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would be named “Chief Federal Response Coordinator” for Maui, to lead a long-term recovery effort, according to a White House press corps pool report.
The president was also expected to "take an aerial tour of the devastation suffered by Lahaina," the pool report said.
The wildfires have wrought significant devastation since they broke out earlier this month, with over 100 known deaths to date, making it the deadliest such event in more than 100 years. Hundreds are still missing and the fires have scorched or destroyed thousands of buildings.
Agencies have so far deployed around 500 employees to the island, including Coast Guard and Navy personnel that assisted with initial evacuations of residents and tourists.
Leadership for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration have gone to Maui to survey the damage and 140 search and rescue FEMA personnel are working with local officials on rescue operations.
Biden has signed an emergency declaration for Maui, making more federal funding and resources available. “Our prayers are with the people of Hawaii, but not just our prayers,” he said. “Every asset we have will be available to them.”
Christi Chidester Votisek, a spokesperson for the General Services Administration, said none of the federally leased space in Maui has been damaged by the fires.
Colby Stanton, executive director of the Hawaii-Pacific Federal Executive Board, said about 750 federal employees work on Maui and she has not yet heard of any who are unaccounted for. Some of the workers, many of whom are directly involved in recovery efforts, are still waiting for news on friends and family members.
"They're still trying to figure out who is missing and who isn't," Stanton said, noting the emotional toll that has on those individuals. She added at least some agencies have notified employees of their eligibility for evacuation pay and other support services and all the offices on island are allowing for as much telework as possible.
FEMA has named Maona Ngwira as the coordinator of federal recovery efforts. Deanne Criswell, the agency’s administrator, stressed the response is a whole-of-government effort.
“We rely on the experts of our partner agencies to make sure that we have all of the right resources to support the recovery needs for this area and to make sure that we are successful in providing relief to survivors,” Criswell said.
While she acknowledged the logistical difficulties the disaster presents, Criswell expressed confidence the government has “the right amount of personnel on the ground integrating in with the local officials to do this.”
She added, however, that it is “going to be a long-term recovery operation” and FEMA and its federal partners will “continue to build up our presence here on the island.”
Jim Rosica contributed. A version of this story was first published on Government Executive.