Saturday, 26 September 2020


Tsunami sirens’ final call delayed

The Coromandel’s network of tsunami sirens is to be phased out over the next 18 months, but not before an alternative, suitable and effective alert system is in operation.

Thames-Coromandel District Council’s Civil Defence Controller, Garry Towler, said he could absolutely guarantee that under no circumstances would communities be left without a warning system. “We have a duty of care as a council, that is not something that will ever happen,” he said. The new system is likely to include an Indoor Alerting Device (IAD), which would either plug in or be wired into homes. However, the extent to which such a tool would be used, and how it fits into a wider plan for communicating tsunami and other civil defence emergencies, is currently under consideration.  

TCDC has negotiated with Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ) for the continued transmission of tsunami warnings, which are issued via the council’s paging system, until early 2022. Currently TCDC sends out these alerts through 19 FENZ-operated sirens, mostly at fire stations, and 10 separate community sirens. However, due to upgrades to the FENZ system, it was expected that TCDC would no longer be able to use these sirens from the end of this year.

“We have gone back to FENZ and they have agreed to push this out until February 2022,” Mr Towler said. “They recognise that we need to have a solution in place for alerting our communities and we are working with them on having a plan in place.”

Although it is estimated that the siren network only reaches around 30 per cent of the Coromandel Peninsula’s population, Mr Towler said both TCDC and FENZ were mindful that they were still seen as a tried and trusted method by many members of the community. “Part of the planning we are working on will include a new education programme,” he said. “Technology is changing, the options we have for alerting people are getting better and better.”

Once operational, Mr Towler, said it would be council’s job to build confidence and trust in a new alert system so the reasons for decommissioning the sirens would be clearly understood. “We will be talking particularly with those 10 communities where they have installed their own sirens,” he said.

Council’s preference is to fully move away from sirens and have the entire Thames-Coromandel District on the same alert system. “We don’t want to end up with mixed messages which could be very confusing, especially for visitors,” Mr Towler said.

The total cost of an IAD system and how it would be funded have not yet been announced. Mr Towler said this will form part of a full business case currently being conducted by Hamilton-based consultants, Advance Business, who are expected to report back within a month. “It will then go to the Emergency Management Committee who will send it forward with a recommendation to council,” he said. “I would hope to see that done by the end of the year.”

If endorsed, the IAD system would likely be part of an overall suite that could also include the national Civil Defence emergency mobile alert system, apps such as Geonet and other social media solutions.

A pilot programme involving 120 IAD units plugged in at various key locations on the Coromandel at the start of the year, particularly targeting areas with poor cell phone coverage, showed a success rate of around 85 percent. Meanwhile, work is continuing on the 29 Community Response Plans which are being developed in consultation with residents. “This process is going really well with a high level of engagement,” Mr Towler said. “The alert system, once finalised will form part of these plans.”

Around 20 of the Community Response Plans have been completed, including all the major centres on the Peninsula, with work in progress or about to start on the remaining nine.


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