Alberni examines improving tsunami warning system

Port Alberni's tsunami warning system is 20 years old, doesn't serve the whole city well, and needs an improvement.

Earthquake and tsunami activity in the South Pacific has prompted officials to examine improving Port Alberni’s tsunami warning system.

The community has changed and the system needs to be improved, Port Alberni fire chief Tim Pley said at Monday’s city council meeting.

“The system is 20 years old and at the time it gave us the most bang for the buck,” Pley said. “But it’s time we looked at an upgrade of it.”

The existing tsunami warning system is comprised of four sound towers controlled from the fire hall.

Since the system was installed, there are a few pockets in the tsunami inundation zone where the sound doesn’t project well.

“People at Harbour Quay can hear the sound projection from the station at Kingsway and Strathern,” Pley said.

“But they can barely hear it at Western Forest Products, APD and the plywood mill down the way.”

The sound doesn’t project further up river, where the threat of a tsunami may reach as well.

“A 20 metre high tsunami could pass the harbour and go up river though Paper Mill Dam,” Pley said.

A combination of city, First Nation and ACRD land is at risk in this scenario.

“And they aren’t well served by the system either,” Pley said.

Budget constraints in the city and ACRD have prevented further study on the improvements.

But recent events in Japan where a tsunami crushed part of the eastern coast have given looking at the project a fresh boost.

The volume of the sound towers can’t be turned up but more towers can be strategically added to the system.

Partnerships with the ACRD, First Nations and industry will be examined as part of the improvement process.

“I hope they see the value in investing in erecting towers in their areas,” Pley said.

The project is in the information and study stage, but may be ready to be pitched as a capital project in 2012.