Tauranga City Council has confirmed plans remain to install tsunami sirens in the region.
Previous plans to install new sirens from Papamoa to Omanu have been delayed, with the impact of Covid-19 attributed as the main factor.
However, any system must fit the profile for new regulations regarding tsunami warning infrastructure.
It comes after residents in the Thames Coromandel District Council region expressed major concerns about the deactivation of the tsunami warning system in their area.
Mercury Bay resident Linda Cholmondeley Smith has expressed her concerns with TCDC Mayor Sandra Goudie after the earthquake and tsunami threat across the East Coast on Friday, March 5.
Three major earthquakes in the Pacific Ocean, including an 8.1 magnitude quake near the Kermadec Islands, saw communities across the Bay of Plenty and beyond evacuated.
Linda felt the first earthquake that morning but was left disappointed at the lack of alerts and soon discovered plans to deactivate sirens in the region.
“Within six hours we have had three earthquakes and there has not been anything from Civil Defence,” Linda says.
Linda claims the Mayor told her at a public meeting on Sunday, March 21, that the decision to deactivate the sirens in the TCDC area was an internal decision and that there was no public consultation.
TCDC civil defence controller Garry Towler clarifies that the tsunami sirens in TCDC area are still operational but will be disconnected in September.
He also disputes the idea there was no public consultation on the matter and explains why sirens are no longer considered the most effective warning system.
“We’ve been flagging up since at least December 2016 that the tsunami warning sirens in our district are not compliant with the new national standards and that if sirens are used, they should only be one component within a wider warning system,” he says.
“Because of issues around their location, wind direction, double-glazing in windows they are not the most effective means of alerting people.”
In 2014, the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management released a new standard for tsunami warning sirens. A timeframe until June 2020 was given for tsunami warning sirens to meet this new standard.
TCDC were informed by NEMA in July 2020 that their sirens no longer complied with the standard.
In Tauranga, there are currently no active tsunami sirens.
“Any siren used for tsunami warning must be compliant with the technical standard,” says Barbara Dempsey, general manager, TCC regulatory & compliance.
Much like in the TCDC area, any sirens in Tauranga would need to meet the new guidelines set out in 2014.
“The standard requires sirens intended to be used for tsunami warnings to be PA capable in order to provide simple and clear voice messages after the alert signal,” Barbara explains.
“Tauranga City Council does not have any current tsunami sirens. Any implementation of tsunami sirens would be required to comply with national standards.”
However, TCC have confirmed a project to install tsunami sirens in the region remains, although could not go into any specifics at this time.
A previous plan to install up to 12 sirens from near Mount Maunganui Primary School to Papamoa East, covering approximately 15km, was originally scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021.
However, in the TCC Annual Report for 2019-20 it was confirmed the project has been delayed due to border restrictions and international supply chain delays as a result of COVID-19.
Continuing to progress the project was listed as an immediate priority regarding emergency management in the briefing for incoming TCC commissioners in February 2021.
The advice from Civil Defence New Zealand is to not wait for official warnings. If you are near the coast and feel an earthquake that is long or strong, get gone is the message.
A local source tsunami could arrive in minutes and you should move immediately to the nearest high ground, or as far inland as you can, walking or biking if possible.
Linda has now started a petition to try and ensure that tsunami sirens remain a part of the alert system in the Thames-Coromandel region.
She believes that implementing the new systems with the traditional air-raid style sirens, well known to residents, is the most expedient way to ensure safety for all in the case of an environmental catastrophe.
“The advice is just ‘if it is strong be gone’.
“We are doing all these great things which are ok when they are already complimenting a system that already exists.
“Our area is too important along the East Coast right down to Tauranga and beyond.”