Tsunami sirens to be gone in September

08 Jun 2021

Thames-Coromandel District Council is set to press ahead with the decommissioning of the Peninsula’s network of tsunami sirens saying a communications void in the wake of the Civil Defence alert on 5 March was to blame for the “amplified reaction” from some eastern seaboard communities.

The alert, the consequence of two serious earthquakes within hours of each other, came just a day after TCDC had confirmed plans to disconnect the sirens, which are non-compliant with national standards, from September this year. This sparked an online petition to retain and upgrade the sirens - which council says would cost $9m - along with a number of public meetings where TCDC was accused of not properly consulting on the matter. 

A series of information sessions, which council insists were always planned, have now taken place with 181 people attending. Whitianga had the largest attendance with 57, followed by 52 in Tairua, 48 in Pauanui, 22 in Whangamata, and just one person each in Thames and Coromandel Town. Around 30 submitters to the draft TCDC Long Term Plan 2021 - 2031 referred to the issue, with 10 speaking to it at the public hearings. 

Without any discussion, the council at its Long Term Plan deliberations meeting on 1 June, passed a resolution noting the analysis and recommendation of Garry Towler, District Emergency and Crisis Manager, to proceed with the timeline for the decommissioning of the sirens and declined to set any funding aside for additional consideration of the siren issue. The decision had been anticipated a week earlier when the TCDC Emergency Management Committee discussed next steps in terms of continuing communication with the most resistant communities - Whitianga, Tairua and Pauanui. 

Responding to questions about what would happen if a community such as Pauanui decided to go it alone and fundraise to install a compliant siren, as some residents have suggested could be a possibility, Mr Towler said it still raised the question of who would activate it. Chief executive, Rob Williams, said it would unlikely be council, and warned that people would be either on top of a hill or under the rubble by the time the go-ahead came from the National Emergency Management Agency to “flick the switch”- as the process of reaching that decision can take an hour or more. Councillor Terry Walker emphasised that the community was not hearing that message and Mr Towler said council would keep having conversations in that regard.

TCDC will roll out a new $220,000 Tsunami Evacuation project from later this year, including maps and messaging on information boards at every main beach entrance, together with an education campaign using mainstream and digital media. Council says the signage and information board upgrades will start in July and then roll out around the Peninsula with the Eastern seaboard communities all having a minimum of main beach access signage installed before the end of December. The media campaign will also commence in July and run parallel to communications about the disconnection of the Tsunami sirens prior to final switch off in September. 

Meanwhile, leaders of the campaign to retain the sirens have organised another public meeting this Saturday, 12 July, at 2:00pm in the Whitianga Town Hall.