Earthworks have begun for a million-dollar refuge for thousands of Papamoa people fleeing a killer tsunami.

It is the first of four safe assembly areas due to be built in Papamoa East between Parton Rd and Emerald Shores.

Tauranga City Council emergency management manager Paul Baunton said the one under construction in Gordon Spratt Reserve had a 5000sq m base, gently sloping up to a 3m-high crest covering 3500sq m.

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It was designed to cope with about 3600 people seeking high ground from a tsunami triggered by an offshore earthquake, with the Kermadec Trench identified as the biggest hazard.

Mr Baunton said it was also designed for day-to-day uses, with terracing and seating to allow people to watch games being played on neighbouring sportsfields. There will be a disability-friendly footpath up to the platform.

The refuge was being built on a disused piece of land and was due to be completed by the end of April.

Mr Baunton said the $1 million cost was because it had to resist the destructive forces of a severe earthquake, including liquefaction.

Three additional tsunami evacuation bridges within five to 10 minutes walk of the safe area were planned to be built this year.

Meanwhile, Papamoa councillor Steve Morris' call for a better early warning system for a tsunami triggered by a close-in earthquake has reached Civil Defence Minister Nikki Kaye.

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The joint committee of the Bay of Plenty Civil Defence's emergency management group agreed to support his idea for the Government to fund a national emergency operations centre that operated 24/7 all year round. Mr Morris pushed for the issue to be dealt with at a political level to give it greater urgency.

The initiative was aimed at eliminating the hour's delay if a warning arrived in the middle of the night. By the time people in Civil Defence headquarters had woken up, convened a meeting and reviewed the data, a tsunami would be on the doorstep of Tauranga.

Mr Morris also wants the Government to fund two new monitoring buoys at $250,000 each around the Kermadec Trench which would provide quicker and more reliable data.

He said the safe assembly areas were needed because people would never be able to drive their way to safety in the family car.