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

Fresh calls for sirens after tsunami scare

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As a 7.5 magnitude earthquake centred near Hanmer Spring rolled through the country Renee Ball was sound asleep in her bed - her baby girl asleep in the next room.

The Papamoa East woman was only woken up after friends drove to her house, one of the last in Papamoa East, banged on her door and screamed into the darkness.

Read more: Earthquake prompts calls for better tsunami alert

She was among many Tauranga residents who slept through Bay of Plenty Civil Defence text alerts warning a tsunami could be on its way.

Just before 8am yesterday morning she set up a Facebook page called Lets Get Papamoa Tsunami Sirens, and started the petition Papamoa & Mount Maunganui NEEDS tsunami sirens!.

By 7.50pm yesterday 2324 people had signed the petition.

"In the chaos of last night, where were the sirens? We live in an area that is completely flat and right near the beach. We need something that will wake locals up at night," she told the Bay of Plenty Times.

After being woken by their friend Mrs Bell, her husband, Tim, and her daughter, Honor, packed their emergency kit and a few belongings in their car and were about to leave when they saw the second alert from the Bay of Plenty Civil Defence saying no evacuation was needed.

Mrs Ball was concerned text alerts were not enough to wake people and said people could lose their lives without a siren to warn people.

"If you don't know what is going on you are not going to turn on the TV and radio to learn more."

Mrs Ball said she would present the petition to Tauranga City Council.

"Something needs to happen. We live in paradise, but we also live in a direct threat if a tsunami does hit the Bay.

Papamoa resident Rob Ganly also believed better warning systems were needed.

"You can't work on the assumption that everybody will be savvy enough to have signed up and be relying on the text service. I look forward to this petition being heard, it really needs to happen, especially with the projected growth of Papamoa.

"A multifaceted approach to the warning system is sorely needed, not just one that relies on people having to effectively implement themselves as recipients by signing up via the internet and relying on hearing a text message during the night."

Mount Maunganui resident Lisa Rooney also evacuated after receiving a text alert from Civil Defence. She lived in a "red zone" just off Pilot Bay, so headed straight up Mauao when she go the alert.

"I was really frightened. We even said on our way we felt a bit silly as we didn't see many others going, you know when you feel a bit dramatic, but then again people take these risks to sit tight at home and it costs them dearly."

She too believed sirens were necessary because she did not hear her phone going off and only saw the Civil Defence alerts because she woke up to use the bathroom.

Craig Morris, Emergency Management Bay of Plenty response manager, said those who slept through their text alerts should consider keeping their phones on, near the bed, with the volume on loud. Or they could have back-up arrangements with friends, family or neighbours.

"It's also important to note that for a local source tsunami, there may not be enough time for a warning so people who live in coastal areas need to take notice of natural warning signs: an earthquake that lasts longer than a minute or is strong enough to knock you off your feet is the natural warning you need to head inland or to higher ground."

Mr Morris said assessment and provision of localised warning systems such as tsunami sirens was the responsibility of the local district or city council.

Tauranga City Council Papamoa ward councillor Steve Morris said while progress had been made with evacuation routes and safety zones, more work needed to be done.

"When I ask people how they wish to be warned in the unlikely event, the number one choice is air-raid sirens. They're loud, you can't switch them off like a mobile phone and you don't have to check your email."

The use of sirens also presented it's own issues too, he said.

"If a siren system fails, more people are at risk for having trusted in it and waited, than if there were no sirens at all.

Cr Morris said a range of warnings needed to keep the community safe.

Tauranga City Council Mount Maunganui and Papamoa ward councillor Leanne Brown said she was supportive of the sirens as an initial warning tool.

"Sirens could be used to wake people up in a emergency but people then need to take initiative and turn on the news, or listen to the radio on what to do."

- Additional reporting by Sonya Bateson

- Bay of Plenty Times

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