New tsunami warning system

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Te Puke High School student Scott Callaghan (centre) has invented a home-based wireless disaster warning system. Photo / Joel Ford
Te Puke High School student Scott Callaghan (centre) has invented a home-based wireless disaster warning system. Photo / Joel Ford

A student may hold the key to solving Tauranga's tsunami siren problems and he has support from the deputy mayor.

Scott Callaghan, a 16-year-old Te Puke High School student, has patented plans for a type of wireless home alarm system covering emergencies, such as tsunamis, floods and more.

He has impressed Deputy Mayor David Stewart and, with help from Priority One, is now working with an electronics and software company to develop the product.

The new system would run on the mobile phone network with data set aside to ensure the messages have a higher priority, as 111 calls do.

Monthly payment plans for households to buy the units were possible, as were partnerships and payment plans between governments and households, both in New Zealand and abroad. Costs are unknown until a prototype can be built in line with government regulations.

The city council has spent about $190,000 investigating tsunami alert systems and when councillors discussed the issue last month they indicated they were likely to axe a $2 million standalone plan that would rely on sirens to warn Tauranga of an approaching tsunami.

It was the latest step in a saga of twists and turns between sirens and household alarm systems.

The Year 12 student's Home Tsunami Alarm System was still in the planning phase but Mr Stewart said he believed the innovative warning system could be the key in developing tools to provide a practical system for Mount Maunganui and Papamoa.

A business studies teacher encouraged Scott to pursue his idea after he started work on it in March. The result was a meeting with Mr Stewart.

"I could see he was on to something and immediately saw the potential. I remember thinking this could be huge but we needed some help to progress it," Mr Stewart said.

"This is exactly the kind of thing I've been looking for. It's simple, foolproof and appears to be very cost-effective. It would be great to see Scott's invention locally developed and locally produced. It could have worldwide appeal."

Priority One led Scott and Mr Stewart to local firm Multifid, which was able to help with development of the invention.

Multifid owner James Graham said the invention could reshape the discussion around coastal warning systems.

"It's not a case of whether this is better than the sirens. This is a siren," Mr Graham said.

"If you think about it, it would be a wireless warning siren in every home."

He said Scott's invention, consisting of current technology in a new configuration, could have global appeal especially for low-lying Pacific Island nations grappling with the twin influences of natural events and climate change.

Scott, who moved to the Bay with his family in 2001, had bought a provisional patent for $57 and was waiting for the release of government guidelines before applying for the full patent and funding for a prototype.

Papamoa Progressive Association acting chairman Neville Dixon said the idea sounded reasonable in theory.

How it works

* Like a cellphone, it uses the existing infrastructure of the GSM data network
* Messages would be sent directly to household units by Civil Defence
* The unit would then convert the information to a voice alert specifying the type of emergency
* It would also include a light indicator for the deaf

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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