Most of the tsunami warning sirens in one Oregon coastal county will go silent in the New Year. Communities up and down the West Coast are phasing in more modern forms of emergency alerts.
After much debate, Tillamook County leaders decided they could not justify the expense of modernizing and maintaining an aging network of 30 tsunami warning sirens. County emergency management director Gordon McCraw says there are many other pathways for people to hear about incoming danger.
"There's Facebook. There's Twitter. There's NOAA weather radio," he says. "They can subscribe directly to the same earthquake notification people that I do."
There are also reverse 911 calls and Civil Air Patrol overflights with a loudspeaker.
Some county residents fought hard to save the familiar warning sirens. In a small victory, the towns of Garibaldi and Rockaway Beach will keep their warning sirens and activate them locally as necessary.
Tsunami warning sirens remain in favor elsewhere. In the new year, the southwest Washington towns of Raymond and South Bend are using federal grant money to add one new siren each.
Emergency managers stress not to wait for the wail of a siren or an electronic alert if you are along the coast and feel the ground shake strongly. The earthquake itself may be the only warning you get to move to higher ground. The first waves generated by an offshore Cascadia subduction zone earthquake for example could hit within 15-20 minutes.
The various tsunami alert systems in place along the West Coast are primarily designed to warn of incoming waves from a distant origin. In such a case, there should be many hours of advance notice to spread the word.
On the Web:
The end of the tsunami sirens in Tillamook County (OPB - Think Out Loud, Nov. 2)
All-Hazard Alert Broadcast Siren test (Washington Emergency Management Division)