Disaster Awareness Week: warnings from on high
1 October 2008
Disaster Awareness Week: warnings to be broadcast to Wellingtonians from on high
Wellington’s new tsunami and civil defence warning system will get a noisy and dramatic unveiling next Wednesday 8 October as part of Disaster Awareness Week - which starts this Sunday 5 October.
A helicopter carrying powerful loudspeakers will, reasonable weather permitting, fly low over the central city and coastal suburbs for one hour from 6pm to 7pm on 8 October. The chopper will carry a new American public-address system that’s specifically designed to warn as many people as possible, in as short a time as possible, about impending danger.
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 test messages will also be broadcast at street level from vehicles operated by the City Council’s Emergency Management Office between 10am and 12 noon – and then 6pm and 7pm to coincide with the helicopter exercise.
The 10am to 12 noon street-level exercise will cover the CBD and the southern suburbs to Island Bay. The 6pm-7pm street-level exercise will coincide with the helicopter test and will cover outer suburbs including Johnsonville, Karori, Kilbirnie and Miramar.
The City Council’s Social Portfolio Leader, Councillor Ngaire Best, says it’s likely the helicopter and the broadcasts “will interrupt early dinners and the 6 o’clock news. Sorry in advance for the disruption – but we think it’ll be worth it in terms of safety awareness in the city.”
And the Council’s Civil Defence Controller, Mike Mendonca, says there’s no better time than the annual Disaster Awareness Week to launch the city’s new warning system.
Wednesday 8 October is the UN's International Day for Disaster Reduction and at 8.30pm TV3 will screen a two-hour dramatic tele-feature - Aftershock - about an earthquake and tsunami hitting Wellington.
Hutt City will test its tsunami warning system on Thursday 9 October.
Most Wellingtonians are well aware of the Capital’s location on, or near, several active earthquake fault lines – we get a gentle shake on a regular basis to remind us of the fact.
However Mike says it’s probably less well-known that the region is at a high to extreme risk of being hit by tsunami waves – generated by quakes either close by or thousands of kilometres away.
“If a quake strong enough to make standing difficult is centred very close to Wellington then everyone will know about it – and people on the coast will have to drop everything and head inland or to high ground to avoid a tsunami that could arrive in less than 10 minutes. It will not be possible to issue a warning.
“However our new PA system will be very useful – especially at night – if we have slightly more time to spare. If a tsunami is on its way from out in the Pacific then the noise we’ll generate with this system – and take it from me it’s loud – will help wake people and get them moving.”
On Thursday evening, good weather permitting, the helicopter will fly around the coast and harbour edge from Owhiro Bay to Ngauranga and then return – broadcasting all the way.
Mike says the portable PA system is so loud that people are warned to move well clear before it operates at full volume. It has been measured at more than 140 decibels – from more than 1 kilometre distant.
The PA system can be operated ‘manually’ - with a person speaking into a microphone – or it can broadcast a series of pre-recorded messages pertinent to the emergency or situation at hand.
In the event of a genuine tsunami emergency, the broadcast message will urge residents to get out of their homes and move inland or to high ground immediately – at least 1.5 kilometres inland or 35 metres above sea level - and to not wait around to collect valuables or other possessions.
If a helicopter is unavailable - whether due to bad weather or other reason - then the backup PA systems can be quickly attached to Council vehicles to do the same job.
For further information visit www.getthru.govt.nz