hawaii public relations


“What happened today was totally unacceptable,” Hawaiian Governor David Y. Ige relayed to a terrified- and outraged- state, “many in our community were deeply affected by this. I am sorry for that pain and confusion that anyone might have experienced.”

2018 was barely two weeks old, and the people of Hawaii had already spent 38 minutes of it hiding in terror, in cupboards, under beds, holding their children close. They had all been the recipients of an alert message sent by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency at 8.10am that morning.

“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL”, the message read. Mercifully, it was exactly that: a drill. It just wasn’t meant to be sent to the phones of civilians.

Following a brutal 38 minutes of radio silence, officials and agencies began posting official notices on social media correcting the mistake, declaring the alert a result of human error, not the work of hackers or a hostile government. Still, the damage had been done.

“We fully felt like we were about to die,” said Allyson Niven, a mother in Kailua-Kona, “I drove to try to get to my kids even though I knew I probably wouldn’t make it, and I fully was visualizing what was happening while I was on the road. It was awful.”

Ray Gerst was on holiday in Oahu with his wife; they were celebrating their 28th wedding anniversary. They received the alert as their bus turned into Kualoa Ranch as part of a tour. “All the buses stopped, and people came running out of the ranch and said, ‘Just sit still for a minute, nobody get off the bus, nobody get off the bus,’” Gerst said. They were taken in the mountains and dropped off at a concrete bunker, with no cell signal, for 15 gruelling minutes.

The administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, Vern T. Miyagi, held a press conference that afternoon, discussing a detailed timeline of the events that morning. He said the agency would try to fix the mistake, with three key measures in place: all future drills suspended until a proper analysis of the event, the institution of a two-person activation rule for tests, and a cancellation command that can be triggered within second of an error.

Still, it seems the damage to the agency’s reputation has been done. “So this was the most terrifying few minutes of my LIFE!” lamented Twitter user Paul Wilson, a professor at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, “I just want to know why it took 38 minutes to announce it was a mistake?!?”

What’s done is done, but the island simply cannot afford to have another false alarm. If the public trust sees its faith in government systems eroded beyond return, they are unlikely to be reachable when it really matters.

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Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.