A false alarm that triggered Whakatane's tsunami warning system last night has prompted fears residents might ignore a genuine alert.

The tsunami alert sounded at 8.02pm last night and sounded for approximately seven minutes. Sirens were heard in Whakatane, Opotiki, Matata, Coastlands, Ohiwa, Waiotahi and Waihau Bay, but it appears that the siren did not sound in Ohope.

The incident came only two months after another false triggering of the pager-activated alarm system.

Whakatane resident Geoff Cottrell said the local radio station did not give any information after the alarm sounded, so his household evacuated up the hill.

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It was concerning that only four or five other families did the same, he said.

"It appears the alarm is no longer being taken seriously by the population," Mr Cottrell said.

"This is simply not good enough and needs urgent review before we all stop responding to the alarm and assume that it's just another computer failure."

Meanwhile, Eastern Bay of Plenty Civil Defence is working to get to the bottom of last night's tsunami false alert and is giving the matter the highest priority.

A previous false alert occurred in September and following an investigation, a software fault was found to be the cause of the issue.

Eastern Bay of Plenty Emergency Management co-ordinator Jim Tetlow says is the matter is under urgent investigation, but the Civil Defence team was still unsure what had caused the issue.

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"Following the September false alert, additional security measures were put in place to prevent another occurrence. Unfortunately, last night the alert system sounded again last night without being intentionally activated by Civil Defence

"We are investigating the cause of the activation with our provider, Kordia, and will update the public on the cause as soon as it is understood," Mr Tetlow said.

Opotiki Mayor, John Forbes, said that the main concern was people losing faith in the system.

"During this activation, many more people did the right thing - they tuned in to their radio to 1XXand listened for updates and to find out more. 1XX was prompt in supplying the information to the public as well.

"But I appreciate there is a high risk that people will stop paying attention to the alerts and this is a concern for Civil Defence. It's possible that there will be further issues before the root cause of this problem is found, but I encourage people to continue to treat the sirens as they are intended - as a warning signal to find out more about the situation," Mr Forbes said.

Mr Tetlow agreed and emphasised that the alert sirens were only part of the picture.
"People need to understand what the natural warning signs of a tsunami threat are.

"If there is a large earthquake that you cannot stand up in, or the shaking goes on for more than a minute, this is a natural warning of a potential tsunami.

"In those circumstances, people in coastal areas should not wait for an official warning and should move immediately to higher ground or inland."

Investigations are continuing and updates will be provided when further detail s are known.

Information on how to prepare yourself and your family for a tsunami and other major emergencies is available from www.bopcivildefence.govt.nz or from council offices.