2006 BIG ISLAND EARTHQUAKE: 1 YEAR LATER
Maintaining contact tops crisis tasks for industry
The biggest lesson for the state's tourism industry from last year's earthquake and resulting blackout, officials say, was the importance of communication, both within the state and to the rest of the world.
Before the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau could plan a public relations campaign to let the world know that infrastructure here was largely intact, officials had to find a way to get that message to each other.
"We learned that we needed multiple ways to communicate," said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.
Overloaded cell phone and computer networks and power failures, which disrupted air transportation and information systems, left the coconut wireless as the primary means of communication, said George Applegate, executive director of the Big Island Visitor Bureau.
First, members of the visitor industry had to be kept up to date on safety conditions, potential evacuation plans and the state's airports and harbors. If damage on the Big Island had been severe enough, visitors would have had to be moved to another island, Applegate said.
"It was quite a challenge to make sure that everyone was informed," Applegate said. "We have lots of little bed-and-breakfasts and vacation rentals that aren't properly identified or registered. While larger accommodations have real visible management, some of the smaller ones are harder to reach."
Since the quake, personal digital assistants, satellite phones and text messaging services have been ordered for all key visitor industry officials, Wienert said.
In addition, tourism officials moved the database for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau Web site to the mainland to ensure that it continues running in the event of a local disaster, she said. When early reports of widespread damage to the Big Island were broadcast on the mainland, officials had no way to correct them.
"So many people rely on that Web site for information, we wanted to make sure that it would be running no matter what happens," Wienert said.