Tofino mulls tsunami siren testing

Tofino is looking into whether sounding tsunami sirens during non-emergencies would be a sound strategy.

During last week’s regular council meeting in Tofino, Coun. Cathy Thicke pushed for Tofino’s tsunami sirens to be tested and heard within Tofino on a regular basis.

She suggested hearing the sirens being tested regularly would help increase Tofino’s emergency preparedness and decrease potential panic.

The district’s manager of community sustainability Aaron Rodgers said he tests the sirens every week but these tests are done quietly so as not to cause undue alarm.

Rodgers said Tofino is working with other Vancouver Island communities with tsunami sirens to come up with a test sound that would be used Island-wide so communities know not to panic when testing takes place.

“We want to make sure Island-wide that we’re consistent in our messaging,” he said.

Coun. Thicke suggested a test sound may not be the right route to take and that she would prefer to hear the real thing. “It’s also really important that we as a community are not panicked when we hear that,” she said.

“It’s a reminder to me ‘do I have that grab and go (kit)?’…It’s a reminder to the kids growing up here that we can’t just rest on laurels and then have a panic.”

She said the community should be able to hear the actual siren during tests but the district would need to heavily publicize when these tests were taking place.

Coun. Greg Blanchette agreed but suggested the test siren could be distinct from the actual emergency siren by using an interrupted wail rather than a continuous alarm.

“I concur strongly with what Coun. Thicke is saying. I think if we heard those sirens every month then we would be a lot more cognizant that we’re in an earthquake zone and of our own preparedness or lack thereof,” he said.

“I think that would go a long way toward raising people’s consciousness on a frequent basis…If we had a full volume test you would know where you could hear the sirens from and where you couldn’t.” Rodgers suggested the ability to hear the sirens in different areas of town changes with wind patterns and said the district is currently looking into installing additional sirens.

The district currently has two tsunami sirens and any additional sirens would cost about $80,000 including installation, according to Rodgers.

Coun. Duncan McMaster, who attended the meeting by phone, spoke against sounding the alarm when no alarm is needed.

“I’m not really in favour of having a test monthly,” he said.

“I think people get lulled into a false sense of security and when the sirens actually do go off for a valid concern people lose time wondering ‘is this a test or is it not a test.'” A decision on whether, and how, to test the sirens in a way that would be heard by locals was not reached but district discussions on the issue are expected to continue. reporter@westerlynews.ca