Oregon County to Ditch Tsunami Sirens Jan. 1

October 10, 2012

When the big one hits the Oregon coast, people won’t need sirens, say experts – they’ll know by the intense trembling beneath their feet that a tsunami is on the way and it’s time to hustle to high ground.

Besides, the experts say, the earthquake a few dozen miles out to sea will likely topple the sirens and knock out their power.

And if the tsunami is generated by a distant earthquake, such as the one that hit Japan last year, there will be a few hours for residents to be warned by other means.

Beyond all that, the commissioners in Tillamook County say, there are neither spare parts nor a fix-it person for their sirens, so the county will quit using them as of Jan. 1, The Oregonian newspaper reports.

The sirens are World War II technology and can be replaced with more effective, efficient technology – such as reverse 911, social media and public address announcements, said Gordon McCraw, emergency management director for county.

The decision has drawn objections.

Ocie Johnson lives two blocks from the sea at Rockaway Beach. With her mother, started a Facebook page, SOS Save Our Sirens in Tillamook County.

“For the distant tsunami, the sirens are dummy proof,” said Johnson. “I have issues with the social media aspect and our phones. For vacationers, how would they get the information? A lot of seniors don’t text. They don’t use Facebook. They don’t have cellphones.”

Patrick Corcoran, an Oregon State University specialist on earthquake and tsunami hazards, says it’s imprudent to rely on sirens.

“There is a 37 percent chance in the next 50 years of a Cascadia event, magnitude-8 or -9,” Corcoran said. “When the event happens, what matters is knowing where you are in relationship to high ground and getting there.”

Johnson said the county has not done a poor job of notifying residents that the sirens would be discontinued.

“They trained us for 15 years, ‘Listen for the siren, listen for the siren.’ In three months, we are supposed to reset our brains,” she said.

Tillamook County Commissioner Charles Hurliman says the sirens are failing and can’t be depended on, but he’d be open to communities keeping them.

“If that’s what they want, they would need to take care of them,” he said.

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