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Tsunami alert wording to change

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre has changed the words it uses to inform New Zealand about tsunamis.
Updated: 6/10/2014 12:07 p.m.

​Based in Hawaii, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre (PTWC) provides information on all earthquakes in the Pacific which could cause a tsunami in Pacific Rim countries and island states.

From now on PTWC messages will no longer included the terms ‘Warning’ or ‘Watch’.  Instead, the centre will now provide ‘threat forecast levels’ along coastlines.

Only the Ministry of Civil Defence Emergency Management (MCDEM) will state whether notifications to the New Zealand public are ‘watches’ or warnings.

The PTWC will also no longer issue ‘Tsunami Cancellations’. Instead a ‘final threat message’ will be issued and it will again be the sole responsibility of the MCDEM to cancel warnings in New Zealand. 

Director of Civil Defence Emergency Management John Hamilton said the PTWC messages are a trigger to start a New Zealand response if one is needed.

“The Ministry uses that information as well as additional assessment by GNS Science to decide the threat status for New Zealand, and our warnings and advisories will continue to be in the same format. It is only the information the media and others may receive from PTWC that will look different.”

Mr Hamilton said the Ministry also wished to remind the public that an official warning was only possible for distant (more than three hours warning time) and regional source (one to three hours warning time) tsunamis.

“For a tsunami generated very close to New Zealand there simply won’t be time for an official warning,” he said. “It is therefore important to prepare before a tsunami and be able to recognise the natural warning signs so you can act quickly.”

If you are at the coast and experience any of the following, then move immediately to the nearest high ground, or as far inland as possible:

  • feel a strong earthquake that makes it hard to stand up, or a weak rolling earthquake that lasts a minute or more
  • see a sudden rise or fall in sea level
  • hear loud and unusual noises from the sea.

More information on how to prepare for tsunamis is available online at or from your local council.




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