Hawaii Missile Panic: A Talent Manager Shares His "Surreal Experience"

Ron West - SUMMER PRESS TOUR 2011 - Getty-H 2018
Rick Rowell/ABC via Getty Images

Manager Ron West and his wife, Lila, were lounging in their Maui hotel room early Jan. 13, watching CNN and having a laugh.

"They were reporting on [Donald] Trump's assertion that he has a good relationship with Kim Jong-Un and we chuckled out loud," West, a partner at Thruline Entertainment whose clients include Blair Underwood, writer-producer-actor Chris Moynihan (Marlon), Briga Heelan (Good News) and Annabeth Gish, tells The Hollywood Reporter.

But levity became panic when their phones lit up with an emergency alert: "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL." The timing was ominous.

"Every rational bone in my body felt like it was a false alarm," West explains. He immediately turned the channel to local news which had yet to report on the alert, so he called the local Air Force base. "The guy who picked up told me that they were treating it as legitimate until they heard otherwise. He told us to seek shelter and that is not what you want to hear from the Air Force base."

Since the couple was on vacation with West's colleague, Willie Mercer and wife Suzanne, he called to check on them but Mercer's phone went to voicemail. Next call was to his client, journalist and author Doug Stanton, who thanks to his upcoming film 12 Strong, has ties with top government officials. "I told him what was going on and asked if he could make some calls," West says. Stanton reached out to his contacts and forwarded the replies back to his manager. "Then I kind of knew that we were OK," he says.

Still, West and his wife headed to the lobby of their hotel — Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort — where staff was directing guests to a ballroom. The "dark, cynical" side of West led him to laugh imagining "meeting my fate in a ballroom with a bunch of strangers" rather than privately in a hotel room with his wife. Still, he packed a bag with phone chargers, his wallet, some books and other incidentals. "There was a lot of not-knowing," he recalls of the missile mess.

Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency sent out a second alert that the whole situation was a mistake 38 minutes after the first warning. (The agency later said an employee mistakenly pressed the wrong button.) "The hotel staff, while being super nice, was utterly unprepared for this. They didn't have a clue what to do."

West hopes the result of this human error is that changes are made in protocol for the department and that Hawaii moves to increase available bomb shelters. In the meantime, the manager tells THR, he was going to enjoy the final 24 hours of his five-day vacation by snorkeling. "It's a good cocktail party story, but man, it was a surreal experience. Have you ever been to the Andaz here? If you're going to meet your maker, it's a pretty good last view."

A version of this story first appeared in the Jan. 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.