Crying ‘wolf’ with Tsunami warnings

Tsunami warning mess brings comments Photo:Tony Walker

Last night's tsunami warning for the Bay of Plenty wasn't needed, says Emergency Management Bay of Plenty Director Clinton Naude today.

It's important not to cry wolf, says Clinton.

"We don't want people to become complacent about text alerts due to too many false alarms. Rest assured that we will send text alerts in the event of an emergency.”

Large earthquakes similar to the 7.9 New Guinea earthquake today, occur quite often in the Pacific, and it's common for a tsunami threat to be issued as soon as Ministry for Civil Defence and Emergency Management are notified about an earthquake.

“That's a trigger for us to check the situation and take appropriate action,” says Clinton.

“In this instance, based on the location and nature of the earthquake and our experience, we assessed that there was no immediate threat to Bay of Plenty residents. A premature text alert was likely to prompt some people to self-evacuate unnecessarily.

“Our assessment was confirmed to be correct when the Ministry's warning was cancelled very shortly after it was first issued."

The first threat notice was emailed by the Pacific Tsunami Warning centre at 12.07am. The Ministry of Civic Defence issued a tsunami warning for the New Zealand coast at 12.26am.

The BOP Civil Defence Emergency Management Groups website's emergency status was updated to reflect the warning at 12.56am.

That was followed by the Ministry's request at 1.02am to radio stations for the broadcast of an emergency announcement.

And then at 1.22am the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management cancelled the tsunami warning in place for all New Zealand coastal areas including the Chatham Islands.

Today residents of the Bay of Plenty are voicing complaints and concerns about the warning system.

A boatie anchored at Whalers' Bay at Great Mercury last night says while the warning was sent by email, the lifting of the warning wasn't.

“I stumbled upon the email from Bay of Plenty Civil Defence saying there was an alert,” says Brian Rogers.

He found it at about 2am by chance and was thinking he better pack up and get ready to move the boat. He checked news websites and found the alert had been cancelled.

“They never put out a follow-up email to say it's been cancelled. I was checking the phone for text alerts and there was nothing there to say it was a goer from the start.

“I had this email direct from Bay of Plenty Civil Defence and nothing to cancel it. And I found that it had been cancelled on another news site. If you put it out on one source you have to cancel it through that same channel.”

Tauranga City Councillor and coastal resident Leanne Brown says there no need for people to be upset about the way the system operates.

“I have an app, there wasn't a text but there was an email.

“They didn't need to send a text because there wasn't a warning. They only send a text if there is a warning and there wasn't one,” says Leanne.

The app stated the earthquake was in New Guinea, she checked the civil defence website, saw there was no tsunami threat and went back to bed.

“I just quickly told a couple of the other Facebook pages to make sure nobody was distressed and went back to sleep - well, I tried to go back to sleep.

“There's an earthquake, they investigate, they make a decision, done.”

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck 157 km east of Rabaul, at Midnight on Saturday (NZ time), the US Geological Survey reported.

The quake sparked tsunami warnings in the surrounding islands and people living along Papua New Guinea's coastline fled to higher ground.

"Widespread hazardous tsunami waves are possible," the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) said in a message following the quake, which struck the New Ireland region of Papua New Guinea at a depth of 103.2 km.

The tsunami threat was extended to Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, Pohnpei, Chuuk, Nauru, Kosrae and Vanuatu.

A question was been sent in to the Rise Up Tauranga and Papamoa Facebook pages: "How and where does the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management (MCDEM) issue tsunami warnings for all of New Zealand coastal areas, including the Chatham Islands?"

One way appears to be through Twitter. The national headquarters for the ministry has an official Twitter account (@NZcivildefence) with 51,371 followers, and according to their Twitter feed at 12.35am posted "We are issueing an official tsunami warning for NZ following the mag 8 earthquake in Papua New Guinea #eqnz"

One person commented "Honestly thought this was some kind of parody or joke tweet with the massive typo sticking out like a sore thumb"

At 1.00am MCDEM tweeted: "Further assessment is underway in regards to the tsunami warning for NZ. Please stand by for more information."

At 1.04am MCDEM tweeted: "No evacuations are necessary at this stage. However, please stay out of the water and off the beaches following this evenings tsunami threat."

The BOP Civil Defence Twitter account (@BOPCivilDefence) which has 842 followers, hasn't tweeted anything since December 10 when they wrote that there'd been an earthquake in the Solomon Islands, but there was no tsunami alert for New Zealand from it.

Last night's warning, if sent to BOP Civil Defence by the national office, doesn't appear to have been passed on to the community by text or Facebook post. However, the local office did post at 1.14am on their Facebook page "Tsunami marine warning has been cancelled by the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management. NO TSUNAMI"

For those of us following the page who hadn't heard about it, the cancellation was our first warning.

The post was shared 43 times.

Rebecca Taepa wrote: “Where were the texts?? Woken up, seen the news and the fact there was an official warning from MCDEM and yet again BOPCD have dropped the ball. The only thing that these events are showing me, is how unprepared, untimely and unreliable the information out of BOPCD is.”

Dawn Headley wrote under the post “Bay of Plenty Civil Defence, you really need to up your game and develop CLEARER communication rules. It's simply ridiculous to post that a warning has been cancelled when you hadn't posted one in the first place!! I for one am starting to lose confidence in your ability to help keep us safe and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone. This is your raison d'être. Do it well or don't do it at all ... please!”

Emily Mathus wrote: “I received only one email at 1.05 am issuing a National warning of a tsunami threat. I am wondering a few things BOPCD: 1 Why not explain what caused the warning. 2. When I clicked on the link to find out the emergency status it said there was no emergency situation. 3. I am still waiting to receive a cancelled tsunami warning communication 4. Although I have subscribed to receive text alerts I didn't receive any for this event. I look forward to you improving your systems for these emergencies.”

This morning at 8.04am BOP Civil Defence posted on their Facebook page:

“You will no doubt be wondering...where was my text? BOP CDEM Group assessed the situation and based on experience believed a text was unnecessary and would cause some people to self evacuate.”

This brought further outcries.

Ann Mitchell wrote: “I got an email so went to the website and no updates since 9th December. Very confusing.”

Dibs Mackay Corr wrote: “I have defended you guys until this morning, and now I have no faith whatsoever which is a real shame. Also the email didn't say "threat" - it said "warning" - which we've been educated to believe we must take more seriously. And you felt it wasn't necessary to text us? Yet every other time you've texted us, when there wasn't even an actual "warning" last time but instead WAS just a "threat". Honestly, who is behind the scenes running this? Someone seriously incapable is making big calls when they shouldn't be! I would LOVE to hear you justify to us why you didn't feel there was a need to send a text, yet you felt there was reason to send an email? For a real deal warning? The mind boggles! Someone needs to answer this for our communities.”

Bay of Plenty Civil Defence have responded: “Thanks everyone for your feedback...we are aware a cancellation email was not sent and we are investigating why this did not occur.”



4 Comments

@ mutley

Posted on 19-12-2016 17:10 | By Crash test dummies

Taking the essence of the blog, CD and LG are not remotely prepared and never will even get slightly real about until afterwards. Of course that is right on the money. The local lot have already said "look after yourselves". The message is already very clear, they have no plan or plans for anything, they don't want to know and don't give a ratz, but they still want you to pay your rates for each and every infatuation that they are ever possibly able to dream of.

All reasonably practical steps ??

Posted on 18-12-2016 16:03 | By mutley

So are the agencies of government like CD and local authorities taking all reasonably practical steps to prevent harm or just fiddling while Rome gets ready to burn ? Rest assured that if the general populace don't (take all ... steps) they will be fined heavily. So let us sit back and watch the judicial chaos unfold when (not if) the big one strikes our coast. Unfortunately it may be that we will get none of it right until after the major disaster. That is what happened after the Napier earthquake of 1931 - NZ had no seismic design standards before that date and then "bingo" the authorities magically came to their senses once the shit had hit the proverbial fan. History never repeats - yeah right.

What text?

Posted on 18-12-2016 14:33 | By Crash test dummies

I guess better to get a warning that is a false alarm than not get a message at all.

agree

Posted on 18-12-2016 12:27 | By whatsinaname

Didn't get warning text just an email that was very confusing

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Early morning view from the Mount. By Lynn Johnson. Send us your photos and stories from around the Bay of Plenty. Email: photos@thesun.co.nz