Radio prank triggers 911 calls


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

It may not have whipped up hysteria on the scale of Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 broadcast of “War of the Worlds,” but a Big Isle radio station’s April Fool’s Day prank definitely created a headache for some folks.

Native FM 95.9 Program Director Darin “Gumby” Gumbs wrote in a Facebook post Monday that he was throwing in the towel on all future April Fool’s pranks after he caused a scare with a fake advisory about lava crossing Saddle Road.

“Sorry guys, was me,” he wrote. “There is no lava flow on Saddle Road. It was irresponsible and inappropriate to put that.”

Gumbs’ website post, made sometime between 9 and 9:30 a.m., was written in a manner resembling public advisories and messages issued by police departments and Civil Defense, and that was part of the problem, said Hawaii County Civil Defense Administrator Darryl Oliveira.

“We got a call from one caller, she was in the process of packing up, and she didn’t know where she should go. She was concerned about the lava coming. … People were taking this seriously as an actual event,” he said.

“The community here does rely heavily on the media concerning events or incidents that pose a risk for them. The public turns to the media for that information. So, when information is put out regardless of whether it’s a joke or a prank, there are no assurances people will not take it as a legitimate incident. … They (media outlets) need to be sensitive to the community and how they react to things. We live with a volcanic hazard in our community, we live with it as a reality. It’s not a farfetched possibility.”

The website posting reported that Saddle Road had been closed near mile-marker 28, near the Mauna Kea Access Road, due to a “lava fissure” that had opened in the area. Only scientists working at the scene were allowed into the area, it read.

“It even had pictures, they looked like they had photoshopped in pictures of lava going over the road,” Oliveira said.

Civil Defense and 911 dispatchers reported receiving multiple phone calls about the report around 9:30 a.m. After calling the radio station and confirming that the reports were a hoax, Oliveira said he requested that the station remove the item from its website, as well as broadcast a message informing the public. He said the station complied immediately.

Civil Defense also issued its own “all-clear” through its alert messaging system, he said.

A call seeking comment from Native FM station General Manager Ilene Alford was not immediately returned as of press time.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

Rules for posting comments