Tofino tsunami sirens will chime once a month

Break out the bangers and mash Tofino; a monthly taste of Britain is about to shake-up the calendar.

Break out the bangers and mash Tofino; a monthly taste of Britain is about to shake-up the calendar.

Tofino’s two tsunami sirens will be sounding off once-a-month starting in July but their traditional wail will be replaced by the sound of Winchester Chimes to avoid panic.

During last week’s regular meeting, Tofino’s municipal council officially signed off on the monthly tsunami siren testing that the district’s emergency program executive committee had been lobbying for.

Coun. Greg Blanchette said a communication strategy would need to be launched to ensure locals and visitors know the monthly tests are coming and Mayor Josie Osborne said the committee would hash out strategies to inform the public of what’s going on.

“It’s really important that locals, especially front line staff, understand what’s going on because then when they get questions from visitors they can answer them,” Osborne said.

Tofino’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers, whose department oversees emergency planning, told the Westerly after the meeting that he conducts silent tests of the sirens each week to ensure they’re working and ready to go but the committee has been champing at the bit to get audible tests going.

“I believe the emergency program executive committee is very excited about it…If we take that committee to be a representation of the community, I believe this may be something the community is looking forward to,” Rodgers said.

“There’s always going to be some people who don’t like it and some people who do like it… but what it does is it helps people understand that there is a system in place and this is one way of communication among many others.”

Rodgers suggested the Winchester Chimes test-sound could be supplemented by a pre-recorded voice message and said other sound-options would be investigated.

He cited a community in Oregon where the tsunami test siren sounds like a cow mooing.

“It definitely doesn’t sound like a siren and you get lots of people talking about it,” he said of Oregon’s bovine blast.

Rodgers hopes the monthly tests will increase local awareness and, in turn, personal preparedness.

“It’s a bit of a communications tool in itself…It gets people a little bit more aware and has them thinking about personal preparedness,” he said.

“It helps us have that discussion with the community about what the sirens are actually for and why they were purchased and installed. The main reason being to alert people who are visiting on the beach, and who may not have a phone, and may not be hooked up to the NOAA alerts, that something is happening.”

He suggested the sirens are more for tourists and beachgoers than locals at home and said locals should take it upon themselves to be prepared.

“Going back to personal preparedness, we expect people to take some responsibility for being alerted and not to rely on the sirens,” he said.

Locals can turn their phones into personal tsunami sirens by signing on to Tofino’s emergency alert system available through the district’s website: www.tofino.ca.

Andrew Bailey writes for the Westerly News in Ucluelet.

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