Sonya is a social issues reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Earthquake prompts petition for tsunami sirens

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Brooke Ion, from Papamoa, was concerned to wake up this morning and discover she should have headed to high ground four hours earlier. Photo/supplied
Brooke Ion, from Papamoa, was concerned to wake up this morning and discover she should have headed to high ground four hours earlier. Photo/supplied

A petition and a Facebook page have been set up for Papamoa residents asking for tsunami warning sirens to be installed.

A new Facebook page named "Let's get Papamoa Tsunami sirens" was created this morning following concerns raised by locals that they did not wake up to text message alerts.

The page posted: "Until the November 14th tsunami evacuation scare, I believed that the sirens at the Parton Rd Fire station would sound the sirens in a event of a tsunami evacuation. I was wrong and this is not the case.

"The fire station have no control over the sirens therefore they would not sound in an event of us needing to evacuate.

"People did not wake up to the text messages and if phone lines and communication is down then what are we to rely on.

"Our community need sirens so let's work together as a community and make this happen!"

Just an hour after the page was created, more than 200 people had joined it.

Soon after, a Change.org petition named "Papamoa & Mount Maunganui NEEDS tsunami sirens!" was created and was quickly gathering signatures.

Mount Maunganui resident Ian Evans was disturbed to wake up for work this morning and discover he had slept through a large earthquake and the text messages from Civil Defence that followed.

"I'm not a New Zealander, I've lived here 18 months so earthquakes, tsunami, volcanoes, that sort of stuff I take seriously.

"Texts in theory are a good idea, but they didn't work."

Felt reports generated on GeoNet from around the Western Bay of Plenty. Image/GeoNet
Felt reports generated on GeoNet from around the Western Bay of Plenty. Image/GeoNet

He was concerned enough to message Civil Defence, and got back a message saying if you feel a strong earthquake, head to higher ground.

But he did not feel the earthquake.

"And what happens if it's an earthquake too far away to feel that sets off a tsunami?

Mr Evans said the same thing happened to him the last time a tsunami alert was issued.

"In theory, a mass text alert an email is a good idea, but when you need to wake people up in the middle of the night, text messages aren't going to cut the mustard."

Mr Evans said sirens would be the best option as "old-school technology is sometimes the better option".

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Brooke Ion, from Papamoa, said she woke up this morning and checked her Facebook page, only to realise she should have headed to higher ground four hours earlier.

"I slept right through it then went on Facebook and saw nothing but evacuation posts, it's pretty worrying! Especially because my partner and I live two minutes from the beach.

"I've been woken up by fire station sirens, but never by a text message. We also live in the bottom floor of a house so our chances of risk are increased, I feel."

Waihi beach resident Emma Pollard said while the township had warning sirens, she was concerned they were not utilised immediately and residents received text messages first.

Our phones are generally on silent overnight as are most people's, so was surprised the siren wasn't used first.

"I understand for [Civil Defence] they heard of the downgrade just before sounding sirens, however we were still in process of evacuating our three young children alerted by a friend's phone call.

"They didn't text the downgrade til 40 mins or so later. Slightly concerning that texting was used first overnight."

Bay of Plenty Civil Defence said on their Facebook page: ''It is important people know the natural warning signs.

"If there is an earthquake that lasts longer than a minute or is strong enough to knock, this is the natural warning to head inland or to higher ground.

"There is no other alerting tool that can reach everyone everywhere.''

Video

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 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.

"Once away from the water listen to a radio station for information from local civil defence about further action you should take or for the all clear from emergency services."

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

Civil Defence text alerts

If anyone was registered for text alerts but didn't receive them, they should contact Bay of Plenty Civil Defence so we can check if it was an issue with our alerting system or a national communication network fault.

Contact options are as follows:

- Email your mobile no. to info@boprc.govt.nz
- Text your location code as follows to 2028 (text will cost 20c)

TA - Tauranga
WB - Western Bay
KA - Kawerau
WH - Whakatāne
RO - Rotorua
OP - Opotiki

- Send a private message to the BOP Civil Defence Facebook page

- Call 0800 884 880 and ask to speak to one of the BOP Emergency Management team about text alerts


What is Tauranga City Council doing about tsunami evacuation planning?

Tauranga City Council's tsunami planning has been informed by leading tsunami research. What have we learned about tsunami in our region?

- We know where a worst-case tsunami is predicted to go, how deep it will be and how fast it will get there.

- We know that there will be crippling traffic jams as people try to get away from the tsunami. Evacuation by foot is best.

- We know that even from Papamoa it is possible to reach safe areas on foot before the tsunami floodwater reaches you, so long as you don't wait too long after the initial earthquake.

- This knowledge has enabled us to develop an evacuation strategy and start building evacuation infrastructure to make sure that you can get to safety as easily as possible. The first evacuation maps were published in 2014 so that the community can plan their evacuation. In 2016 we installed evacuation signs. New structures that have been built include earthquake-proof bridges to get people over the Papamoa open drain and Wairakei Stream, and a purpose-built vertical evacuation safe location on Gordon Spratt Reserve. This is the first of four such structures that are planned and budgeted for.

See more here.

- Tauranga City Council website

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