Tillamook County: Tsunami sirens are ‘antiquated’

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TILLAMOOK, Ore. (KOIN) — The Tsunami Watch along the Oregon Coast Tuesday lasted a few hours because of a big earthquake in Alaska, prompting a lot of confusion and questions — especially from residents in Tillamook County who no longer have tsunami sirens.

There was a lot of debate from coastal residents about different alert systems. Some called for sirens to be installed again because if it was a Tsunami Warning that was issued, it would mean that a potential tsunami could be just hours away from making landfall.

In Tillamook, the county and city leaders decided 5 years ago to decommission the more than 20 sirens in the area because they believe it’s antiquated and would only cause more confusion. 

Gordon McCraw, the director of emergency management, said tsunami sirens are not only outdated, but are expensive to maintain.

“One of the questions was, ‘If we have The Big One, how long are the sirens going to go off for?’ Well, probably they wouldn’t because the telephone systems and the radio systems that would activate them would be impaired by them during the quake,” McCraw said.

With satellite technology now, other methods of communication — such as alerts to cell phones — are more reliable.

“You get many visitors who come to the coastline that don’t even know about the tsunami threat, and this thing goes off and if they’re from the Midwest, they’re going to be looking from the sky, wondering where the tornado is coming from,” McCraw said. 

Other questions that arose after Tuesday was what about people who are living with limited access to technology? 

“We can have first responders into neighborhoods, alert people on the coast, if they don’t have telephones, TV, none of the above,” McCraw said. “We can have the trucks going through the neighborhood with the sirens and the loudspeakers.”

Tsunami sirens are only used when there’s a real threat of a possible tsunami and usually the alerts go out hours before it makes landfall. 

McCraw also added that since it’s been years since sirens were used, he thinks most people would be confused if they heard one and not know what to do.

Tillamook County residents can also sign up for all types of warnings through the Nixle Alert System

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