Tsunami alerts remind us of need to be prepared

Published on 15 March 2021

Photo of Mayor, Sheryl Mai.

I am very proud of the response from our community to the tsunami alert after the earthquakes on Friday 5 March. The speed and efficiency of our emergency services response and the effectiveness of our siren and Emergency Mobile Alert (EMA) system network must be commended. 

This was the type of event Civil Defence, emergency response and Community Response teams prepare and practice for, and it was also the very first time both sirens and EMAs had been used together. 

Within minutes of the EMA message coming through to our phones and the sirens activating, people were grabbing their water bottles, wallets and cellphones and heading for high ground. Schools in the evacuation zone mobilised, organisations followed evacuation plans and business owners locked up, gathered their staff and left. 

Many people opened their high-ground homes to their neighbours, and our whanaungatanga as a District again came to the forefront.  

While residents, schools, organisations and businesses everywhere along the coast of our District were responding in record time to this alert, our city centre population in particular was put in the position of navigating a mass evacuation during business hours.   

The process of closing down a business for an unknown period, organising staff and finding a safe and efficient route out of the city centre proved overwhelming for many. Add to this the concerns for family members, pets, friends, loved ones and home environment - I can only imagine the stresses involved. We are lucky in that our central city and wider coastline has many close-by, high-ground evacuation points, and one of the major learning points from this event must be the importance of knowing your closest and easiest-to-access evacuation point during an emergency evacuation. 

Now is the time to plan. Many safe evacuation points lie within a safe walking or biking distance from our central city area. Personal and business evacuation plans must consider what is needed in the case of a long-duration evacuation. Think about how you would access water, food, shelter from the elements and long-term connectivity to media and loved ones. 

This is the perfect time to check the following: 

  • Do you have a grab bag with essentials? (see www.getready.govt.nz)
  • Do you know the best evacuation route and destination from home and work? (see www.nrc.govt.nz/evacuationzones map)
  • Does your extended family know what to do in the case of an emergency? (Make a family plan)
  • Does your business have a plan?  
  • Have you practised an evacuation?

Right now, Whangarei District Council and Northland Regional Council are consulting on our Long Term Plans. Topics for consultation include a proposed upgrade to our tsunami siren network and the proposed establishment of a joint Civil Defence Emergency Operations Centre.

I think this event has shown us that more funding in this area should be considered, and I encourage you all to read these documents and make submissions. 

Long Term Plan consultation 2021-2031

Nga mihi Whangārei, stay alert and be prepared!

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