On May 3, 2018, Hawaii Electric Light Co., the company I work for, discovered we had a problem. Lava flows were popping up in the middle of a residential neighborhood in our service territory. This wasn’t the first time Hawaii Electric Light had experienced a volcanic eruption, but it was the first time one had begun in the middle of a densely populated area. We wondered, how would we keep our employees safe during this event? How would we keep the lights on in the affected area? These were the questions that had to be answered very quickly given the circumstances.
Hawaii Electric Light is the electric utility that serves the island of Hawaii, the biggest of all the Hawaiian Islands. Of the five volcanoes on the island, the three that are considered active are Hualalai, which last erupted in 1801; Mauna Loa, which last erupted in 1984; and Kilauea, which has been continuously erupting since 1983 and was the volcano that erupted in May.
In the Hawaiian culture, Kilauea is the home to Madame Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes. As the legend goes, from her home in Halema’uma’u Crater at the summit of Kilauea, Madame Pele determines when and where the lava flows. She is the goddess who shapes the sacred land. Hawaiians say that she has a reputation for being as fickle as she is fervent. She proved many times during the May 2018 eruption that she was indeed in charge.