Whitianga tsunami siren gets unplugged

A flat six-volt battery is believed to be the cause of yet another false-alarm tsunami warning in Whitianga.

The siren went off about 8am yesterday, sounding for about five minutes – the third time in several months – and prompting a flood of phone calls to the radio station.

A cleaner is believed to have unwittingly triggered an earlier false alarm in May, barely a week after the tsunami alert was set off instead of the fire alarm.

The temperamental siren has been switched off until it can be made to work properly.

Whitianga fire chief Merv George said he was deeply embarrassed by the third false alert and said he wanted to assure the community the problem would be fixed as soon as possible.

"The siren should be switched back on today or Friday," he said.

"`We are getting people in to have a good look at the whole system and it should be permanently fixed in about two weeks' time."

A flat battery was believed to be at fault, he said.

"We had a fire call to power lines on fire, and the same time we had a power cut [in parts of the town].

"That set the fire siren off, it went up, came down again, and then went up and stayed up, and that noise is the same as a tsunami alert, and that's why people thought the tsunami alert had gone off.

"I raced down to the station and ripped the wires out from the siren to stop it, and we reckon a flat battery that went unnoticed may have been to blame."

However, Adam Munro of the Waikato Civil Defence Emergency Management Group advised people not to rely on a siren in the event of a tsunami, which was generally triggered by an earthquake.

In an earthquake, people should go to higher ground as soon as the shaking stops.

"If there is time before the arrival of a tsunami, other alerting methods, like a siren, may be effective.

"Tsunami siren systems can provide peace of mind for communities, but are not useful for near-source tsunami where a felt earthquake is the best indicator. In that case, people who wait for an `official warning' to evacuate rather than responding immediately once the ground stops shaking, may be unnecessarily injured or killed."

Coromandel MP Scott Simpson said he was concerned the tsunami warning system would now lack credibility.

"We need to build some confidence in the system and there is some debate about whether a siren is the best way to send out a tsunami alert. It may be yesterday's technology."

But Mr George said other methods, such as text messages or reverse 111 calls, would be impossible in the seasonal town, where the population during summer swells from about 5000 to 20,000 people.

"The siren is still the best way, and has been proved to work," he said.

Waikato Times