Tauranga City Council has responded to concerns raised by the Papamoa community at a lack of tsunami sirens following Kaikoura's devastating 7.5 earthquake yesterday morning.
The quake prompted a tsunami alert for the coastal Bay area but many people slept through the Bay of Plenty Civil Defence text alert system. Concerned residents have since rallied to get tsunami sirens installed. Read more about the petition here.
Council manager of emergency management Paul Baunton said in response to Bay of Plenty Times queries that this was something it needed to address in conjunction with the work the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management was doing on public alert systems.
Tauranga City Council spent several years investigating tsunami siren systems, but changed course when it became apparent that the biggest tsunami that could hit our coastal suburbs would arrive before any sirens, or other alerting method, could be activated, Mr Baunton said.
"The council's immediate focus shifted instead towards making sure that people have safe areas to evacuate to and can get there. That work has progressed well over the last three years, so we are now ready to renew conversations about alerting systems."
Mr Baunton said since 2013, the council chose to invest in public education, evacuation routes and safe areas so people were able to escape a tsunami after a major earthquake.
This went through two phases:" Learn as much as we can about how the hazard will affect our coastline so that we can make the best decisions for our communities about where the safe areas, and ways to reach them, are"; and "use that knowledge to develop ways for people to be safe, e.g.: tsunami bridges, evacuation signs, and purpose-built high ground areas".
Mr Baunton said a major earthquake was the first early warning that a tsunami could arrive at the Mount and Papamoa coast in 50 minutes.
"That is not enough time for official warnings. This is a worst case tsunami that would cause mass fatalities, so this is the tsunami that the council has planned for the most," he said.
Mr Baunton said there were very real questions to resolve around night-time alerting.
"Now that the evacuation routes and infrastructure are nearly in place, the council can look towards the next phase of public safety, which would be how to alert the community about a tsunami that takes more than 50 minutes to arrive," he said.