Tauranga City Council is working to have tsunami alert sirens installed by mid-2023, six months later than planned because of implications from Covid-19.
A low-risk tsunami warning was issued for the eastern Bay of Plenty coast after a 7.7 magnitude earthquake near New Caledonia at 2.20am yesterday.
The brush with danger has prompted calls for Tauranga's new Government-appointed commission, which took over governance of the council on Tuesday, to act quickly.
In 2019, the council gave the go-ahead for up to 12 tsunami sirens to be installed between Pāpāmoa East and Ōmanu over the next two years.
None have been installed.
Councillor Steve Morris, who was among elected members replaced by the commission, has long advocated for sirens.
"There's an issue with the supply of the devices or technology - that was the last update we had - due to Covid-19," he said.
"My understanding is the design work was well under way and also they were going down the planning route, seeing what was needed in terms of resource consent."
Council community services general manager Gareth Wallis said the initial 2021 completion date had previously been updated to December 2022, as the project progressed.
He confirmed the project had since been delayed and the council was now working to a Covid-adjusted timeline of completion by June 2023.
The project would be within existing budgets of around $3.1 million, he said.
Plans to install tsunami sirens along Western Bay coastlines began in 2005 after the devastating Boxing Day tsunami in Indonesia in 2004.
It has been a tumultuous 16 years since then, with helicopter-mounted loudspeakers tested and back-and-forth debates on air-raid sirens that were eventually moved aside in favour of sirens with a voice-over capability.
Last year a false alarm that sent people to the hills was blamed on a legacy issue with retired sirens attached to fire stations and other spots from Waihī to parts of Tauranga.
Pāpāmoa Residents and Ratepayers Association chairman Philip Brown said residents had been promised tsunami sirens.
"It is a high-risk area and there's not a lot of places to run off to so you need as much warning as possible," he said.
Michael O'Neill, of the Mount Maunganui Residents, Ratepayers and Retailers Association, said the issue had not been discussed at meetings.
"But I'm certain our coastal dwelling residents would be keen on some sort of warning system," he said.
"We would certainly support that as an association."
Civil Defence Emergency Management staff are on duty locally and nationally around the clock, Bay of Plenty senior advisor communications Lisa Glass said.
"In a significant event, there will be warnings through the emergency mobile alert, which is the real loud klaxon sound we got at the start of the lockdown," she said.
"The main thing is, if you are coastal don't wait, because before anyone can sit down and type, you can already be evacuating."
The message from Civil Defence for those living near the coast is when an earthquake hits that is long or strong: get gone.
A tsunami is a series of waves caused by large earthquakes or eruptions of undersea volcanos. New Zealand's entire coastline is at risk.
People on the coast should move to the nearest high ground or as far inland as they can if an earthquake is so strong it is hard to stand up or lasts a minute or longer; if they see a sudden rise or fall in sea level, and if they hear loud or unusual noises from the sea.
A look at recent seismic activity in the Southwest Pacific, showing the powerful quake that occurred near the Loyalty Islands early Thursday.— NIWA Weather (@NiwaWeather) February 10, 2021
Bigger & warmer-coloured circles indicate larger quakes 🟠
Please follow advice of @NZcivildefence.
Data: @gnsscience. pic.twitter.com/kz4iP9iCTc
If an earthquake strikes locally, a tsunami could arrive in minutes, according to Civil Defence, and it was important people did not wait for official warnings in these circumstances.
Evacuation routes for people on foot are signposted along the coast.
Morris hoped the four-person commission would get the sirens installed promptly.
"It's just that extra level of security, which is simple, cost-effective when you consider what the consequences are," he said.
"The likelihood in any given year is low but the consequences are catastrophic."
Tsunami siren timeline:
2005 – Plan to install 10 sirens in the Western Bay announced;
2006 – Siren testing reveals "black spots" where they could not be heard; test message alerts launched; in-home sirens investigated;
2007 – Helicopter-mounted loud-speakers tested, installation of up to 90 smaller fixed sirens discussed;
2008 - Tsunami sirens clear first vote;
2011 - Tsunami warning sirens abandoned in favour of remote-controlled household alarms, push to install tsunami warning sirens along coastal suburbs, budget papers showed the estimated $750,000 cost of the sirens would not be spent until 2016-17;
2012 - Tsunami Survive, a community-driven action plan to survive a tsunami, ticked off by the Tauranga City Council, powerful air raid-styled tsunami sirens back in contention;
2013 - New tsunami inundation map for Tauranga shows more safe havens for people living along the coastline than originally thought;
2014 - Sixteen tsunami safe zones from Mauao to Pāpāmoa identified as part of an important new emergency evacuation plan; warning sirens ruled out;
2015 - Public tsunami open days held to learn about planned new tsunami mounds and assembly points; council set to spend millions on increasing evacuation routes, safe zones and bridges;
2016 - Councillors consider tsunami alert mechanisms;
2017 - A tsunami mass warning system that talks discussed; air raid-style tsunami sirens ruled out; council settles on a combination of in-home device and a network of outdoor speakers along the coast;
2019 - Tauranga City Council green lights plan to install up to 12 tsunami sirens between Pāpāmoa East and Ōmanu over the next two years;
2020 - Impact of Covid-19 hampers supply chain of sirens, Tauranga City Council installation process stalled.