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KSSK Steps Up to Kona Storm’s Emergency; Spokespeople Still Slow with their Response

Last night’s kona storm was as close as we came to a hurricane this year. Utility poles, trees and boulders reportedly blocked streets and highways around Oahu early today as southwesterly wind gusts in the 60-mph range were recorded on Oahu and Molokai.

Oahu’s designated emergency broadcast station, KSSK, has responded well this time. We tuned in shortly after 3:45 a.m. when our neighborhood’s circuit went out (for the sixth time since November 4th).

Christmas music continued to play except for a short “live” newsroom announcement around 4:10, and Mike Perry went “live” at 4:30 and has been going at it nonstop as of this posting.

The station’s newsroom seemed to be fully activated, with personnel breaking in with reports on school closings, highway reports and other newsworthy items. Overall, this was the Michael W. Perry we remembered from Hurricane Iwa 25 years ago – fully engaged and obviously wearing his “emergency hard hat” today.

Where Were the Responders?

What wasn’t as smooth was the flow of information from first responders. Officials with storm-related information were slow in communicating with the public through KSSK.

Hawaiian Electric Company had been experiencing power outages yesterday and last evening, so the company presumably could have anticipated that thousands of customers would wake up in the dark this morning and need information.

Yet HECO's spokesperson wasn’t heard “live” on KSSK until shortly before 6 a.m., long after many customers began calling the station. Even then, his first two reports were brief and focused only on outages on the windward side, north shore, central Oahu and the leeward coast. Nothing was said about the ongoing blackouts in urban Honolulu, leaving those of us without power since 3:45 wondering whether the company knew about our outage.

HECO sent a second spokesperson to KSSK’s studio, and that was a good move. Perry could turn to HECO’s in-studio representative, a former Advertiser reporter who hit a good sympathetic tone about the public's inconvenience in his reports on the company's efforts to restore power.

Callers complained about the lack of information from the Department of Education. Its spokesman wasn’t on “live” until after 6 a.m. The University of Hawaii’s rep didn’t call until after 6:30. We don’t recall hearing anyone from the civil defense agencies or a Honolulu Police Department spokesperson in the first hours. Callers obviously were displeased, and some urged KSSK to contact the DOE and UH for information.

Keeping Step with KSSK

CHORE’s advice to first responders is to just pick up the phone and call radio stations early and often. How hard is that? More to the point, it’s what first responders should be conditioned to do. This was a major lesson we wrote about recently in our 25th anniversary remembrance of Iwa in the Honolulu Advertiser.

First responders are not information “gatekeepers.” That’s the term for newsroom professionals who decide what’s “news” and what isn’t. Official spokespeople don’t horde information; they exist to disseminate it quickly.

We don’t know what explains the relatively slow response today, but we do have this simple suggestion for all companies and agencies that are expected to communicate information to the public during emergencies:

Be as quick with your response as the official emergency broadcast station – KSSK. If the station was operating at full speed by 4:30 a.m. today, why weren’t you? Help KSSK and other stations keep your customers and citizens informed by planning your response to be as quick as the broadcasters'.

KSSK performed well during and after today’s storm. First responders still have work to do.

What About the Public?

Several callers to KSSK said they couldn’t listen to the station because their power was out – meaning they apparently don’t have a portable radio in the home. That’s pretty amazing, so people:

Go out and buy a cheap battery-powered radio! It will help you stay informed – and keep you off the phone so you're not blocking others with important information they need to convey to KSSK and the public.

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