Give us our sirens - loud and clear, this was the message from the Coromandel's east coast community at meetings to explain why tsunami sirens are being disconnected in September.
Civil defence controller Garry Towler and Fire and Emergency NZ managers presented their alternative alerting methods to Whitianga residents on Monday and Tairua, Pauanui and Whangamata on Tuesday.
Those petitioning for sirens to be upgraded and not switched off have gathered more than 2000 signatures.
They are critical of what they see as the lack of communication and believe the council is putting too much reliance on mobile technology.
"They got it loud and clear that they want the community to be listened to," says Linda Cholmondley-Smith who started the petition.
She said the community forums demonstrated that Civil Defence has abandoned the mechanical sirens and was attempting to re-educate the public on a decision it had already made.
"It seems the most practical thing is a combination of sirens and technology. But technology fails. If we have a major [earthquake] the first thing that happens is the power goes out, there goes all your alerts by mobile phone."
Cholmondley-Smith has formally asked TCDC to withdraw its advertising of "official" tsunami warning methods that omitted the icon for sirens.
She said the exclusion of the siren and PA system symbols is a subtle way of suggesting these are no longer advocated nationally.
"Sirens are a way of public emergency alerting, which is supported by government," she said.
Mayor Sandra Goudie said siren replacements came at a cost and she urged people to submit to the draft 10-year plan if they wished to see money spent this way.
The community's opportunity to give feedback on TCDC's draft Long Term Plan has closed, a day before the scheduled forums in Tairua, Pauanui and Whangamata.
However, Mr Towler said the council may open up another round of community consultation on civil defence spending.
"The decision was made because we were given a choice - comply or disconnect. The council decided to disconnect. They made the decision, they didn't see that consultation was going to change that," he said.
Several ratepayers' groups had submitted on the point of tsunami sirens, and could represent their communities when they spoke at hearings.
Tsunami sirens are found around the coast and TCDC has the most sirens in the country, with nine owned by the council and 18 owned by Fire and Emergency New Zealand.
Those at fire brigades are one of three ways that FENZ alerts volunteers to callouts and had a device attached that could be used by Civil Defence to alert residents of an impending tsunami.
The council's estimate for upgrading to meet national compliance is between $5 million and $9m, for 45 sirens around the district.
Instead some $200,000 is tagged in the draft 10-year plan for a public education campaign and signage at all main beaches and highways to inform people of ways to be notified of an emergency.
Mr Towler said the disconnection of the tsunami sirens was not part of the Long Term Plan, therefore the timing of the forums was always planned to follow the March 4 Emergency Management Committee meeting where the disconnection process was confirmed.
"If council were to decide to install new sirens that were compliant with national standards, that could be done through the Annual Plan for 2022-23."
TCDC is advocating emergency mobile alerts, messages sent out to mobile phones when an emergency seriously threatens life, health or property.
However the aged population of Thames-Coromandel is a consistent theme among residents' concerns.
Vickee Collins stood up at the Tairua meeting to say her elderly parents don't own a mobile phone and do not want one.
"My concern is there's only going to be one alert system, through the phone, once we lose our sirens.
"They don't have a cellphone and are not intending to get one."
A recent tsunami siren that sounded in the middle of the night had been effective in getting her elderly parents out of bed and to higher ground.
"They heard the siren alert and they were gone before we could get to them."
Tairua Ratepayers Association chairwoman Jean McCann told the meeting many people switched their phone off at night, meaning no alert would sound.
"In our area, there are hearing, sight and memory-impaired people and we're talking one in five people," added Joyce Birdsall of Tairua.
"Pauanui has the oldest age structure in the country, followed closely by Whangamata and Tairua, and we would like you to keep that in mind." Pauanui Ratepayers Committee member David Yeomans is among those critical of the council's communication with communities.
Yeomans is a former air accident investigator who lives on a hill in Pauanui, and his first experience with sirens was four years ago when the tsunami sound led 400 people onto his front lawn.
"The second alternative was 'go to the Pauanui Club' where everybody would've drowned. That's why I got involved in civil defence," he says.
The subject of 'Single Points of Failure' is worthy of discussions to identify how many emergency events in New Zealand have shut down sections of New Zealand due to having no operating alternatives.
For example, one road through Kaikoura, one pipe line from the Marsden point refinery and reliance on one electronic means of emergency notification," he said.
Mr Yeomans believed too much emphasis was being put on mobile technology.
"There is an effervescence of enthusiasm that this was going to save everyone, but it's just part of a matrix of alert systems and I'm a great believer in watching for single points of failure," he said.
He has investigated the costs for the community to purchase sound-compliant tsunami sirens to upgrade those in Pauanui and received an estimated costing of $360,000 for two units.
The Pauanui Community Office submitted a proposal to Tairua-Pauanui community board requesting they halt the council's disconnect programme and engage the community in future discussions about siren replacement, including the possibility of funding upgrades as a community.
FENZ national communications centre manager Gavin Travers said sirens were effective and key for alerting its volunteer firefighters to some 11,000 medical emergencies each year nationally.
When the siren was used for a tsunami alert, the fire service lost use of its siren "which we are a little uncomfortable with".
"This programme of work suits everyone's needs keeping control of the resources and being able to use them as they were intended to, but I do appreciate there would be questions from the community point of view."
Mr Yeomans questioned the ownership structure of sirens at fire brigades including Pauanui, saying he believed the community had contributed.
"I find it rather alarming that an emergency services organisation would be involved in removing a device that would alert the community to an emergency situation."
Mr Travers quoted a 2019 national survey of 1000 people by Colmar Brunton showing the mobile alerting technology is 70 per cent effective nationally.
Of those aged 65 and over, however, it was 58 per cent, with older New Zealanders and those with a lower household income shown to be least likely to receive emergency mobile alerts.
"People have faith and understand what the EMA is about, and I know that doesn't address the emotive connection with fire sirens but it is another tool in the suite to help alert people of the imminent danger."
The survey also asked people where they expected to get information on emergencies. In order of priority it was television, radio, social media, mobile phones, family and friends.
"That makes up 87 per cent of expectation around emergency alerts. So it's quite a widely understood capability, and I think as time goes on it will prove itself as being, I'm not going to say a suitable replacement, but another effective tool for helping people."
TCDC say it is not possible to retrofit existing sirens and new sirens would need to be installed.
Scientific tsunami modelling for all communities along the Firth of Thames and Coromandel Peninsula west coast was completed in March 2019, in Pauanui and Tairua in 2012 and in 2015 for Whangamata, Whiritoa and Onemana. Whitianga and Mercury Bay tsunami risk was completed in 2008, and reassessed in 2017 along with Wharekaho (Simpsons) Beach, Flaxmill Bay, Cooks Beach, Hahei and Hot Water Beach.
While the most reliable tsunami warning is an earthquake, Mr Towler said "silent earthquakes" were a risk on the Coromandel coastline.
The Government had deployed a network of DART (Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami) buoys, which can provide rapid confirmation if a tsunami has been generated.
The National Emergency Management Agency says this was particularly critical for unfelt earthquakes originating from the Kermadec Trench.
Natural warning signs, including a long, strong earthquake, are the most effective way people will know of a potential tsunami.
Among councils proposing to upgrade tsunami sirens are Auckland and Northland Regional Council, which has 132 sirens in its network.
There is no national agreement on whether councils should be spending on sirens.
The cost of the upgrade in Northland has been estimated at $4.5m and is being advanced through the LTP processes of the four Northland councils.
Investigation into the feasibility of a Northland tsunami warning siren network commenced shortly after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.
In 2008, Northland reached an agreement with Northpower to design and host the outdoor "ripple control" tsunami sirens on its power supply network.
By 2010, 60 sirens had been installed in the Whangārei District in partnership with Northpower.
The Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management resilience fund provided $90,000 in support for the initial round of siren installations. Agreement followed shortly afterwards with Top Energy to host the sirens on its network. Both Far North and Kaipara District Councils installed a further 80 sirens across coastal communities.
If you are near a shore and experience any of the following, take action. Do not wait for official warnings.
Feel a strong earthquake that makes it hard to stand or a long earthquake that lasts more than a minute
See a sudden rise or fall in sea level
Hear loud or unusual noises from the sea
Drop, cover and hold during the shaking. Protect yourself from the earthquake first.
As soon as the shaking stops, move immediately to the nearest high ground, out of all tsunami evacuation zones, or as far inland as you can.
Remember: Long or strong, get gone.
In the past century, the largest distant-source tsunami event known to have caused significant run-up in parts of the Coromandel Peninsula was the Chilean earthquake event in 1960. The 1960 Chilean tsunami had a wave height of more than 5m at Whitianga, inundated parts of Whitianga town, and caused significant currents to flow in and out of harbours around the Coromandel Peninsula. - managing tsunami risks in Whangamata Waikato Regional Council 2014.