The Curry County commissioners have voted unanimously to discontinue supporting operation of the county’s 17 tsunami sirens. So, what now?
In a presentation to the commissioners July 24 in Port Orford, County Emergency Services Manager Jeremy Dumire described the condition of the existing sirens, the costs to maintain them, and why they’re no longer the best technology to deploy as a tsunami-warning system.
The commissioners subsequently voted Aug. 7 to discontinue using the sirens for emergency warnings.
Dumire will repeat that presentation for Brookings residents this evening at 6:00 in the Brookings City Hall Council Chambers, 898 Elk Dr., during a regular meeting of the Curry County commissioners.
Dumire will discuss his previous recommendations to discontinue using the World War II air-raid sirens, and elaborate on newer and more-reliable options.
To the south, Del Norte County’s officials said they’ll continue using local tsunami sirens for now.
Keeping tsunami sirens has been a topic of debate in coastal communities for quite some time, said Kymmie Scott, emergency services manager for Del Norte County.
Although Scott said she’s has heard the arguments both for keeping and for discontinuing the tsunami sirens, she said it’s best to have multiple methods to reach people in an emergency.
Of the 17 sirens in Curry County, only four are “reliably operational,” Dumire said July 24. He placed the cost to fix just the head of each unit at $22,000 - assuming all of the other components in the system are still operational.
To completely replace the sirens, with all new systems, would cost between $50,000 and $100,000, said Dumire. His department’s annual budget is $120,000.
According to Dumire, the two possible tsunamis are labeled local and distant. A local tsunami would occur following a major earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone near the Oregon coast. A quake measuring 9.0 on the Richter Scale would be 900 times greater than the 7.1-magnitude quake experienced in southern California on July 5.
“Immediately prior to a local tsunami, the earth will shake and it may likely be the only warning residents will receive,” according to the commissioners’ resolution. “People should immediately evacuate to higher ground.”
That’s because with a local tsunami, “Radio towers and electronic warning systems will likely fail,” Dumire said. Emergency personnel would not have enough time to evacuate residents, because the tsunami would inundate the area within 10 to 15 minutes.
Local tsunamis “pose a greater threat to public health than distant tsunamis,” he said, because of the limited time in which to act, and the likelihood that the warning systems would not survive or be activated by dispatchers.
The commissioners’ resolution concludes that the existence of any kind of local warning system would not help in the event of a local tsunami.
On the other hand, a distant tsunami is triggered by a large subduction earthquake from a far-off location, such as the Japanese earthquake March 11, 2011. Dumire said emergency officials likely would have at least four hours’ lead time to make notifications and evacuate areas at risk - primarily beaches, harbors and rivers.
The alternatives for a warning-siren system - door-to-door contact, and modern technology such as telephones and electronic alerts - are much less expensive and likely more reliable than the sirens, according to the Curry commissioners’ resolution.
Dumire described the reverse 911 system through Everbridge that the county currently is using, which costs $6,500 a year. Residents can sign up to receive phone calls, texts and emails in the event of an emergency by registering at https://member.everbridge.net/index/892807736723773#/login.
The question Commissioner Sue Gold asked during the Port Orford presentation was, “What about the tourists?” She noted that amounts to roughly 50% of the area’s population during the high season.
The response: tourists can sign up for FEMA alerts and the National Wireless Emergency Alert System, through which many people have received presidential alert tests. Those who have not received a presidential alert can contact their carrier to learn how to activate it by telephone.
As for a distant tsunami, Gold was told, emergency personnel would be able to evacuate tourists from shore areas that would be impacted.
To sign up for emergency alerts, visit Curry County Emergency Services at http://www.co.curry.or.us/government/county_sheriff/emergency_services.php. To see whether your address will be affected by either a distant or local tsunami, enter your address at nvs.nanoos.org/TsunamiEvac.