Richard Moore is a columnist for the Bay of Plenty Times.

Opinion: Quake risk is loud and clear

DEAD CALM: Imagine a post-quake wave swamping this coastline. Could you get away?
DEAD CALM: Imagine a post-quake wave swamping this coastline. Could you get away?

Well, wasn't that a good room rattler we had the other day?

It was 7.1 on the old Richter Scale and was felt right across the North Island at 4.37am.

It was reasonably shallow one - only 55km deep - and centred about 100km northeast of Te Araroa on the East Cape.

But, while the earthquake was a good size and woke people up, you can guarantee it won't have shaken authorities out of their intransigence when it comes to putting emergency sirens along our vulnerable coastline.

As you would all know, I have been calling for such a system for the past decade.

The reason I have been so vocal about the issue - in both this column and while campaigning for council and the mayoralty in the past - is because we are completely vulnerable to an overnight tsunami, or other emergency.

That's not so, authorities say. We have text warnings and other high-tech ways to let people know of any slight chance of a big wall of water, or volcano, or quake, or neighbour with terrible snoring.

They don't - for some unknown reason - want sirens.

Perhaps sirens are too effective - as tests in recent years have proved - after all, you hear a prolonged siren in the middle of the night, you will turn on the radio or check the internet to see what is happening.

They are also value for money as cost analysis done a number of years ago showed.

At the moment, you will wait for a text alert, or email - the best way to inform people authorities say - only to have to continue waiting and waiting and waiting.

Papamoa's Rob Ganly, told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend he was woken during the quake, which caused his house to sway, and turned to Twitter for information on what was happening.

"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," he said.

Peter Hudson, also from Papamoa, was woken 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.

By the time the alert went up, the wave had passed, he said.

Yet another Papamoa resident - there seems to be a bit of a theme here, dear readers - Sammy Norton said her husband had signed up two of his phones, work and personal, for the alerts and did not get any either.

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. "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."

Hear, hear, I say. Actually, have said many times.

Mr Hudson added: "Something is wrong with the system, surely they could have issued something earlier?"

Mayor Stuart Crosby believed the Bay of Plenty Civil Defence handled the situation incredibly and congratulated their efforts.

The only issue with that, in my opinion, is the time it took Civil Defence to get its first warning out.

Over the years we have been told every minute counts and so, after about 75 minutes - an hour and a quarter - the alert was transmitted.

How do we know this? Well BOP Civil Defence group controller Clinton Naude said the organisation sent out an initial Facebook post "not long after" the first earthquakes.

The time of that first official alert? "We sent our first official text alert to those who had subscribed at 5.53am."

The earthquake happened at 4.37am.

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.

Just clearly not sirens, which could sound automatically as soon as a major quake is felt.

Mayor Crosby believed the tsunami warning was handled adequately for the size it was. He added 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.

Only I would have thought you have to be awake for that to happen. Surely sirens would wake people?

"There was no need for a siren, it would have created chaos and panic," the mayor said.

But, in my opinion, that means Papamoa residents would have to wait an hour or so, giving them little time to escape along the one main road from Papamoa East to a road leading to safety.

What our local authorities need to understand is that a text or email alert system does not work when your phone, your computer (because power has been cut) or when they - and you - are submerged under a wall of water.

Richard Moore is an award-winning Western Bay journalist and photographer.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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