This paper examines communication methods used to inform the vulnerable community of Hilo, Hawaii of the impending tsunamis that struck in 1946 and 1960. These tsunamis caused tragic loss of life and enormous economic damage in Hilo and along the shores of the Hawaiian Island chain. Over 12 h notice of a possible large tsunami was given in 1960 and the siren warning system sounded more than 4 h prior to the event. The government agencies knew there was a tsunami alert and the media were broadcasting warnings. However, the 1960 tsunami took the lives of 61 people in Hilo only 14 years after 96 people were killed during the 1946 event. In order to discover why so many people perished, government agency logs recorded during the 1960 tsunami were examined and personal accounts from survivors of both the 1946 and 1960 tsunamis were analysed. Contributing to the tragic loss of life was a lack of communication between government agencies in addition to media inaccuracies and a public that was not educated in tsunami safety. Effective tsunami mitigation can only be accomplished through continual tsunami awareness education for the public, media and emergency personnel, and with accurate and timely tsunami warnings.