In light of the many questions I have been receiving regarding tsunami sirens, I wish to provide an overview and update of our tsunami warning systems in Curry County.
We have a couple of different ways to notify the public in regards to a threat from a distant tsunami. (Emphasis on distant: I will expound on that point later.)
Most often, we associate a tsunami warning with the sounding of warning sirens. We do have a few sirens throughout the county that are utilized for this purpose. These sirens are tested on the first Wednesday of each month at 11 a.m.
Full disclosure: Not all sirens work. These systems are surplus World War II-era air raid sirens and most are beyond repair. Sirens that are still online are maintained in an effort to keep this limited part of the warning system going.
Replacement of these sirens is very expensive. For example, while attempting to bring Floras Lake’s siren back online, it was determined by technicians that the siren itself would first have to be replaced. Invoice cost: $22,000. Just for the siren.
If, in fact, the siren controller, power system, radio components, etc., have to be replaced, then that cost of repair climbs rapidly. Complete new systems run between $50,000 and $100,000 each, depending upon range and operational capabilities.
Thirteen of the sirens in Curry County are in a state of failure. During the previous 18 months, despite my limited budget, two (Port Orford, Harris Beach) have been fixed; currently, four work.
The limitations and costs of this system, juxtaposed with current and more robust alerting methods, is quickly making tsunami sirens along the coast obsolete.
Another warning system we utilize is our public-safety partners. Some may remember that during the 2011 Japanese tsunami, which impacted our coastline, law enforcement, firefighters and first-responders went door to door in the low-lying areas to make notifications and ensure areas at risk were evacuated.
During a distant tsunami event, these partners will be utilized to their full extent where possible.
The most robust warning system we have in Curry County is the Everbridge Reverse 911 notification system. This allows us to notify you of a public-safety threat such as (but not limited to) a tsunami warning.
Residents who have signed up for this notification system most likely received a phone call, text, and/or email on July 3 making them aware of the tsunami siren test. In an emergency, this warning system is the quickest and most effective way we can communicate the hazard to our residents.
You can sign up for Reverse 911 notifications online at https://member.everbridge.net/index/892807736723773#/login
Finally, Curry County in October will begin to receive updated abilities through Everbridge. This will include the ability to use the public-safety system WEA, which allows for certain wireless phones and other compatible mobile devices to receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area.
Check with your cellular provider to see if you can receive this type of alert, and how to enable the feature on your phone.
I’ve highlighted the fact that the tsunami warning system is used to warn the public regarding distant tsunamis. Why is this system not used for local tsunamis? And what is the difference between a local and a distant tsunami, and the difference between a tsunami warning, watch or advisory?
•Tsunami Watch – A tsunami watch is issued when a tsunami may later impact the watch area. Emergency management officials and the public should prepare to take action.
• Tsunami Advisory – A tsunami advisory is issued when a tsunami with the potential to generate strong currents or waves dangerous to those in or very near the water is imminent, expected or occurring. Significant inundation is not expected for areas under an advisory. Appropriate actions to be taken by local officials may include closing beaches, evacuating harbors and marinas, and re-positioning ships to deep waters when there is time to safely do so.
• Tsunami Warning – A tsunami warning is issued when a tsunami with the potential to generate widespread inundation is imminent, expected or occurring. Warnings alert the public that dangerous coastal flooding, accompanied by powerful currents, is possible and may continue for several hours after initial arrival. Appropriate actions to be taken by local officials may include evacuating low-lying coastal areas, and re-positioning ships to deep waters when there is time to safely do so.
A distant tsunami is just that ... a tsunami generated from a distant location, such as Alaska, Japan, Chile, etc. With a distant tsunami, we have time to make notifications and to evacuate low-lying areas.
For instance, a tsunami generated in Alaska gives us approximately four hours to evacuate areas at risk.
However, a local tsunami is one that is generated as a result of a very large earthquake located near the coast of Northern California and Oregon, and as such there is very little time between the ground shaking and the arrival of the tsunami surge.
The severity of the earthquake we expect to experience here is such that public-warning systems will be rendered inoperable. Don’t rely on a warning system to tell you to evacuate to high ground after an earthquake. The ground shaking IS your warning, and will probably be the ONLY warning you get.
As soon as you are able to safely move during a local earthquake, grab your “go bag” and evacuate inland and to high ground immediately!
Be prepared to leave on foot, as the roads most likely will not be available for vehicle traffic.
Printable tsunami maps are available online at http://nvs.nanoos.org/TsunamiEvac