HECO’s message at 4:20 a.m. mentioned 18 communities where outages had been reported. (The list had grown to 26 communities by early this afternoon.) We had no reason to doubt the list’s accuracy; on the contrary, we had reason enough to believe outages were indeed happening in those 18 communities -- from Niu Valley to Mililani Mauka. The reason we called HECO in the first place was that power was out at our home and our entire community of dozens (hundreds?) of other homes.
Except for this: Chuck Cotton, vice president/general manager of Clear Channel Radio Hawaii, told CHORE the following in an email:
Mr. Cotton vigorously defends KSSK’s reliance on HECO’s alleged downplaying of whatever outages were continuing. CHORE thinks his email deserves additional attention.
A News Judgment Issue
First, looking at KSSK’s performance, it seems to us that plain old news judgment should have produced a story on the power problems during the thunderstorms yesterday, last night and this morning. Mr. Cotton backs his station and says his personnel relied on a HECO spokesperson’s report of minimal problems, but is that how KSSK left it?
If the station’s personnel asked questions about the number of customers still without power, where they were and how long the outages might last, that information wasn’t aired. People getting dressed for work by candlelight presumably would have wanted to know.
We’ve speculated here previously about KSSK’s self image and whether it truly shifts to an emergency mindset quickly enough. The available evidence suggests that this morning's program should have been a mixture of entertainment and community safety information – a mix that was missing.
What About HECO’s Report?
If Mr. Cotton’s people accurately reported HECO’s comment about “isolated individual outages,” something seems amiss with that assessment. We know for a fact that the power problems were not “individual” outages; dozens of homes in our community were dark at 4:30 a.m.
It therefore must be asked: How proactive was HECO in getting the word out to radio stations about the outages that were still happening? With at least 18 communities affected one time or another by lightning, rain and wind, it’s fair to conclude this was an event of some significance for the utility. Significant events presumably should trigger extraordinary efforts to keep citizens informed – both by the utility and by the designated emergency broadcaster.
When newsmakers push information and reporters probe for it, the result is an informed citizenry. It doesn't feel like that happened early today.