Tsunami Sirens to be Tested in the Capital

18 October 2010

Wellington's tsunami warning sirens will be blaring in the central city and coastal suburbs on Wednesday 20 October as part of a national tsunami readiness exercise.

WEMO staff testing the tsunami siren

WEMO staff testing the tsunami siren

Wellington City Council vehicles equipped with loudspeakers will be in action between 10.00am and 2.00pm issuing test tsunami alerts. The alerts will be broadcast around the harbour and coast from Ngauranga to Owhiro Bay, and throughout the central business district.

Wellingtonians can expect to hear a jarring and shrill sound - the national Civil Defence 'sting' siren - followed by the words:

This is a test - the next time you hear this siren it could be a real emergency or disaster. Get ready to get through - your local council can help.

The Council's Emergency Preparedness Manager, Fred Mecoy, said that in the event of a genuine tsunami the emergency message will tell residents to move immediately to high ground.

"Obviously Wednesday's event is a test and awareness raising exercise, so there's no need for people to be alarmed. But it will be a reminder for everyone to consider their own plans and check their evacuation kits," Mr Mecoy said.

"However, in a genuine emergency people in low lying areas and on the coast need to move immediately at least 1.5 km inland or 35m above sea level," Mr Mecoy said.

"Tsunamis strike with frightening power and speed. It's essential that people don't loiter to rescue possessions but move to higher ground as soon as they hear an alert or feel a strong earthquake. Obviously no one should head to the coast to watch the tsunami sweep in," Mr Mecoy said.

Mr Mecoy said there will not be enough time to use the loud speaker alerts if an earthquake was centred close to Wellington. This equipment will only be used for distant-source tsunamis.

"After an earthquake a tsunami could roar towards the city in less than 10 minutes. So after a quake strong enough to make standing difficult or for a prolonged time, people situated within the tsunami zone should immediately head to high ground.

"There will be no alarm after a local event - mother nature shaking the ground is the alarm," Mr Mecoy said.

Wednesday's tsunami test alert is being conducted by the Wellington Emergency Management Office (WEMO) as part of Exercise Tangaroa, a national tsunami awareness exercise.

WEMO will also be sending test tsunami warning text alerts to those who have signed up to its Twitter-based text alert system, as part of the exercise.

To simulate an evacuation, volunteers will be knocking on doors of some homes in Island Bay, Lyall Bay and Miramar. For the purposes of this exercise they will leave behind information about emergency preparedness and will be conducting a short survey, Mr Mecoy said.

"In the event of a real tsunami, do not rely on us coming knocking on your door - you need to plan to be self sufficient," Mr Mecoy said.

Also as part of Exercise Tangaroa on Wednesday, two emergency welfare centres will be operating at: the Pacific Islanders' Presbyterian Church on the corner of Daniell and Constable streets, Newtown; and Toi Poneke at 61-69 Abel Smith Street, in Te Aro.

The centres will be open to the public to highlight the role of emergency welfare centres as the places where those displaced by an emergency can receive help.

"We are encouraging people to visit one of the centres so they understand how the centres will work in an emergency.We'll be providing some free refreshments plus information about how to prepare for an emergency," Mr Mecoy said.

A mock evacuation of Owhiro Bay School will be carried out as part of the exercise with some pupils taken to the Newtown Emergency Welfare Centre to be registered.

Useful web links and other information:

To find out which areas in Wellington are at risk from tsunami, visit the following site and click on the tsunami evacuation zone maps:

Emergency and Hazards - Greater Wellington Regional Council website

A pdf of the booklet It's Easy! Know your Tsunami Zone is also available on the website. You can order a hard copy by calling the Wellington City Council's call centre on (04) 499 4444.

For further information about disaster preparedness, visit:

Get Ready Get Thru website