Government limits tsunami options

Electronic sirens are back on the agenda. File photo.

The long-running debate over the type of sirens to be used to alert Bay of Plenty residents to the danger of an imminent tsunami has been taken out of the hands of local authorities.

Members of the city council’s Community and Culture Committee learned this week that one of their options - outdoor air raid sirens - are not supported by the Ministry of Civil Defence’s national policy.

The national standard as posted on the government Civil Defence website states the tsunami alert tones should be a multiple tone that rises repeatedly with time, a signal that can only be achieved with electronic sirens., and that ideally, tsunami sirens should also be able to be used as a public address system.

Civil Defence wants existing sirens to conform to the standard by June 30, 2020.

The workshop this week resulted in committee members recommending staff take two options to council to pursue, pole mounted electronic sirens and in-house alarms.

Committee chair, and long standing advocate of the ‘air raid’ siren option, Steve Morris says committee members were spooked by the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management policy.

“Bill [Grainger] and I were both arguing for it, but there’s a national standard by the Ministry of Civil Defence in Wellington which favours electronic sirens, and I think that spooked some colleagues,” says Steve.

“And if it wasn’t going to get past the committee it certainly wasn’t going to get past the council at the next stage.

“The national standard in my view there are some flaws with it.”

The policy is trying to get a consistent sound across the country but it doesn’t work for isolated communities like Opotiki says Steve.

There are 8000 residents and 100km of coastline. The cost of the recommended electronic sirens is prohibitive and the Opotiki community has chosen the cheaper and louder air raid style sirens.

“What the committee decided in the end is staff are going to go away and work up two options to present to the community next year in the Long Term Plan; fixed pole mounted outdoor electronic sirens, or the other option of indoor sirens wired into people’s homes,” says Steve.

“I’m pretty disappointed. I still know outdoor air raid sirens are the best option in my view. But if I pushed that at council I risked losing outdoor sirens as an option.

“Bill and I are going to be having further discussions with staff next week, because I think we missed a bit of a trick there.”

Tsunami sirens have been off and on the council agenda ever since the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami and reinforced by the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Electronic sirens were once decided upon but were found to be too expensive and ineffective, when trialled against an air raid siren.

Council efforts were re-focused onto providing escape routes for the 45,000 Mount Maunganui and Papamoa residents in 2012 when told any network of tsunami sirens would not be able to activate until after a close-origin tsunami arrived on Bay of Plenty beaches.

Paul Baunton, the city council emergency manager, says the way forward is a suite of contact and messaging systems that all have to go off at the same time. Cell phone technology shuts down when more than 20,000 texts are sent at one time. But a key part of the response has to be education and engagement and practice.

“This has to be part of what we do on a daily basis. Everybody who works in an office is going to know that two times a year you are going to have to evacuate the building. That’s the sort of level of acceptance you are going to have to get in the community. Emergency evacuation practices have to be part of everyday life.”

More on SunLive...
You must be logged in to make a comment. Login Now

You can hear...

Posted on 24-08-2017 20:50 | By GreertonBoy

Police car, fire truck and ambulance sirens pretty well and they can be made to play any ’tune’.... I am just sick of it costing us mega bucks as soon as these overpaid, university trained buffoons have a bright idea. What happened to the air raid sirens we had? There used to be one up the pole opposite the post office on Chadwick rd many moons ago? I just think there has to be a cheaper option than an expensive land based system... not to mention, knowing govt departments and councils, they always seem to choose the cheapest, most soon to be obsolete... and ends up costing us millions and the fat cats just lay on their backs an purr....


Posted on 13-08-2017 11:10 | By Papamoaner

I believe helicopters were tried in other centres and found to be useless. The electronic sirens were heard weakly on the ground, and the voice announcements were just indecipherable mumbling.But my god, those huge air raid sirens that were tested in Papamoa echoed all over the place and everybody I spoke to heard them loud and clear. They seem to last forever too.

@ GreertonBoy

Posted on 12-08-2017 08:14 | By astex

Not practical to do this. Yes it would be effective but at a time cost. Land based sirens can be set off instantly, with the flick of a switch. Aircraft or vehicle mounted systems would involve a delay for the vehicles to get to the right place or the pilot to get to the aircraft and get to the area. It can take 20 to 30 minutes for the rescue chopper to get airborne. Whatever the solution, it has to be land based.


Posted on 11-08-2017 15:11 | By old trucker

That there maybe a tsunami, and know one will know, this has been going on for yrs, and must have cost (us) MEGABUCKS with all their hair brained thinking on alarms, NOTHING WRONG with the air raid siren, at least you could hear it, Cambridge fire brigade had one mounted on the old council building and you could hear this for miles around, but TCC will never get anything done as we need to spend $$$30million on new digs for all the Bludgers etc, and spend $$$$millions on (CONS)ULTANTS) for these projects, my thoughts only on this subject,anyway readers, SUNLIVE WON TOP PRIZE FOR NEWS, how AWESOME is this, Sunlive ,Thankyou,10-4, out. phew.

Why have hard wired sirens? Why not have....

Posted on 10-08-2017 22:32 | By GreertonBoy

Aircraft mountable sirens that the rescue choppers can quickly mount on the helicopter or other aircraft and fly around the ’to be effected’ areas.... I am sure that light weight portable sirens could be kept at airports and fire stations... when there is a Tsunami warning, throw one on all the available fire trucks, heli’s, planes and police cars... the electronic sirens can be programmed to make any sound, from an air raid siren to a fire bell.. so choose a Tsunami ’ring tone’ for all of the sirens for citizens to recognise. Anyway, as soon as sirens start going off, farcebook will take over. Any land based, pole mounted siren system will be ugly and expensive... I am sure the govt could buy 1000 shoe box sized sirens from China for less than the cost of environmental impact study of pole mounted system...


Posted on 10-08-2017 18:01 | By Capt_Kaveman

is a waste of time with no roading infrastructure which TCC still cannot get their head around and keep thinking small rather than a whole roading system