Ruth is the human interest reporter and a photographer for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Tsunami threat sparks calls for better warning system

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Early morning walkers still hit the beach after tsunami warning was issued yesterday morning. Photo/George Novak
Early morning walkers still hit the beach after tsunami warning was issued yesterday morning. Photo/George Novak

Calls for tsunami sirens in the Bay and faster email and text alerts have been sparked by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake felt across the North Island.

The earthquake hit at 4.37am yesterday about 100km northeast of the East Cape settlement of Te Araroa at a depth of 55km.

Some Tauranga residents have criticised the length of time before an official alert was released but Civil Defence said information was sent out as soon as it had been verified.

Papamoa resident Rob Ganly told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend he was woken during the early morning quake which caused his house to sway.

The software developer turned to Twitter for information on what was happening.

"I saw quite a few tweets ranging from people asking 'did you feel that?' to comprehensive ongoing reports from @weatherwatchnz.

Read more: Magnitude 7.1 earthquake felt from Northland to Wellington

"I noted that Civil Defence hadn't tweeted anything or posted anything on Facebook for at least half an hour after it happened, which I found quite concerning, as they're supposed to be the 'go to' source that are looking out for our safety and best interests.

"It was only after this that I thought about the tsunami threat and realised I had no real way of knowing if it could be bad. By the time we would have been alerted if relying on Civil Defence we would have had hardly any warning before it would hit."

Mr Ganly said he had signed up to the civil defence warning system and wondered why he did not get a text, or an email about it, he said.

Papamoa resident Rob Ganly was concerned he did not get any text/or email updates regarding the warnings. Photograph/George Novak
Papamoa resident Rob Ganly was concerned he did not get any text/or email updates regarding the warnings. Photograph/George Novak

He was quite concerned there was not a siren system in the area to warn residents of potential dangers, he said.

"Not everyone will be as tech savvy to have to register for alerts or download the necessary apps, and even those that do may not hear the alerts and texts.

"A siren will have a wider and more immediate reach, which is vital in the event of a limited evacuation window where every second counts."

Papamoa resident Peter Hudson was woken yesterday morning by a message from a concerned friend in Germany - not the Civil Defence alert system he subscribed to.

He then tried to get information through Civil Defence's website page but nothing was posted for some time. When the alert went up, it said the wave had passed, he said.

"Something is wrong with the system, surely they could have issued something earlier."

Papamoa resident Sammy Norton said her husband had signed up two of his phones, work and personal, for the alerts and did not get any either.

"When the 6am news came on it was confirmed a 30cm wave had been triggered we packed up some clothes and got the kids dressed. We have a view of the sea so kept a close eye on it."

Papamoa Progressive Association deputy chair Ron Melville said whilst the shake did not throw locals from their beds, if there was a tsunami on the way, few would have been aware of the event especially at the time of yesterday morning's quake.

"A siren system still might be a good option as part of civil defence alerts," he said.

Bay of Plenty Civil Defence group controller Clinton Naude said the Civil Defence sent out an initial Facebook post "not long after" the first earthquakes was recorded.

"We sent our first official text alert to those who had subscribed at 5:53am.

"The public were notified as soon as information had been verified. Natural warning signs are always best and we advise that people do not wait for an official warning."

Mr Naude said the service used a variety of tools to alert the public including text, email and social media. They are currently looking at other technologies.

Text alerts were sent out at 5:53am, 6:12am and 8:33am. While email alerts were sent out at 5:30am, 6:27am and 8:33am.

The Civil Defence posted regular updates on their social media page and issued media releases, he said.

Mr Naude said their systems and processes were under constant review to make best use of technological advances and media changes.

Read more: Brave Tauranga girl's cancer battle

Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby said he was awake when the quake hit.

He said yesterday's tsunami warning was handled adequately for the size it was.

The council had always recommended the public turn on their radios and TV in the event of a natural disaster to find out what was happening.

"There was no need for a siren, it would have created chaos and panic. If we were on the East Coast and it was a bigger event, it would have been different."

Mr Crosby said the Bay of Plenty Civil Defence handled the situation incredibly and congratulated their efforts.

Tsunami alert: What the Mayoral candidates think

Steve Morris

"After nearly 10 years of inaction by previous councils, I promised last election and council has now delivered, city-wide sign-posted evacuation routes and identified safe zones to gather as well as constructing a tsunami mound in Papamoa with another one in the budget for Papamoa East. Through my appointment as the mayoral alternate to the BOP Civil Defence Emergency Management Group (a group comprising the mayors of all councils in the BOP) the group has asked the Minister of Civil Defence to progress an early warning system for New Zealand (probably requiring two warning buoys in the Kermadec Trench). The Minister is considering this and once we have our warning buoys I want sirens up."

John Robson

"I believe that the current warning system is totally inadequate. One issue is that it is too slow. This morning it took over an hour for Civil Defence to issue a tsunami warning.
A second issue is that the warning system is unreliable, too many people did not receive a warning. One day that failure to warn will result in unnecessary deaths. Invest in a multi-channel warning system that includes a coastal siren network. I argued for sirens at the last election - and I have heard nothing to make me change my position."

Greg Brownless

"Whether it is a text message, a siren or even some sort of temporary warning device attached to helicopters or vehicles, it needs to be reliable. The other important aspect is that we must consider our neighbours and check that they are aware if a warning is actually issued. Another aspect I feel concerned about is the labelling of tsunamis. I think our experts need to distinguish between the likelihood of 30cm tsunamis, which occurred, versus those of more than, for example, two or three metres. Clearly there is a major difference in the consequences."

Larry Baldock

"The earthquake on the east coast was a timely reminder that we must always be prepared for such events. Although there was no major tsunami threat on this occasion there was obviously great benefit from having had a practice drill recently in the area. It will need to always be the best practice here, that if the ground has shaken dramatically, that everyone should alert family and near neighbours and move quickly without waiting for any official warnings. Everyone needs to be familiar, in high risk areas, with what their evacuation procedures and options are."

Noel Peterson

Mr Peterson said in his opinion the disaster response could have been managed better. "I would like to see a lot of discussion to improve, perfect, and streamline the response process."

Murray Guy

Tauranga City Council, every local authority, should have a credible suite of, ideally, alert tools as not all suits all, will reach all. The most obvious and conspicuous by its total absence is a city wide siren alert. If re-elected I will continue to push for, at the least, the installation of a coastal siren alert system that is effective and affordable. Signs pointing to a hill and a dirt bund to run to, having possibly received a text, doesn't qualify as responsible emergency management by a city council.​

To register for Civil Defence alerts, or check if your alert needs updating, please head to www.bopcivildefence.govt.nz

Natural warning signs include:

• Strong earthquake shaking (i.e. it is hard to stand up);
• Prolonged, weak earthquake shaking (i.e. a minute or more);
• A noticeable rapid rise or fall in coastal waters;
• Water making unusual noise

- Additional reporting by John Cousins

- Bay of Plenty Times

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