The Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Group is calling attention to a new generation of building fire alarms that are being installed around the region, and sound very similar to the 200-plus tsunami sirens in coastal communities.
There had been an increase in the number of calls to the CDEM from concerned community members as the new fire alarms were installed, mainly in schools so far, and tested, according to Victoria Harwood.
"In the past, when there's been confusion, it's generally been with the 'air raid'-type sirens used by many volunteer fire brigades," she said.
"Although these don't sound at all like tsunami sirens, they are powerful, and people who are visiting coastal communities, and aren't familiar with the sound, can find them scary, especially in the middle of the night.
"However, the new generation of fire alarms that are being installed do sound very similar to the tsunami sirens. The key way of identifying these new fire alarms is that after four cycles there is a voice message telling people to evacuate the building using the nearest fire exit."
Northland had the most comprehensive network of tsunami sirens in the country, she said, from Te Hapua to Mangawhai, built up since 2010, funded and owned by the three district councils and operated in a partnership that included the two electricity lines companies, Northpower and Top Energy.
"Our message to Northlanders has always been that the sound of the tsunami sirens is a signal to seek further information, through media, social media, websites and smartphone alerts," she added.
"In the event of a genuine tsunami warning, additional information will be available on the Civil Defence Northland Facebook page, on TV and radio, news media websites and through smartphone alerting platforms (the free Red Cross Hazard app and Emergency Mobile Alerts)."
There was potentially a more permanent solution to the confusion, however, in the form of a proposal to replace the existing tsunami sirens with more modern technology. The first of the sirens were now 10 years old, and technology had moved on, offering options with greater reach and a voice component to deliver more detail.
Replacing or upgrading the sirens, which would cost millions of dollars, would be introduced into the long-term planning cycles of Northland's four councils.
The tsunami siren network is tested twice a year, at the beginning and end of daylight saving, accompanied by Hazard app messages (as well as advertising and social media publicity). The next test is scheduled for Sunday September 27.
To hear the difference in sirens go to https://www.nrc.govt.nz/sirensounds