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Source: Whangarei District Council

This page contains a news story about new fire alarms that can be confused for tsunami sirens, and information about how to tell them apart.

Updated: 23/06/2020 10:50 a.m.

​If you hear what sounds like one of Northland’s 200 tsunami sirens, followed by a voice message telling you to vacate a building, you are probably hearing a fire alarm.

If there are voiced instructions, follow them. If you don’t hear a voiced instruction, check your phone, computer, tv, the radio or other media for tsunami information.

Northland Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Group has had a number of calls from community members concerned about the similarity between tsunami sirens and the new fire alarms being installed – mainly in schools so far – and tested.

“The new generation of fire alarms sound very similar to the tsunami sirens, but with a key difference; after four cycles of the sound, the fire alarms have a voice message telling people to evacuate the building using the nearest fire exit,” said Northland CDEM spokesperson Victoria Harwood.

“Our message to Northlanders has always been that the sound of the tsunami sirens is a signal to seek further information – through media, social media, websites and smartphone alerts,” Ms Harwood says.

“When there is a real tsunami warning, we post information on the Civil Defence Northland Facebook page, on TV and radio and news media websites and through smartphone alerting platforms (the free Red Cross Hazard app and Emergency Mobile Alerts).”

Northland has the most comprehensive network of tsunami sirens in New Zealand, located in coastal communities from Te Hapua in the north to Mangawhai in the south and Ruawai in the west.

The network has been built up since 2010, with the sirens funded and owned by the region’s three district councils (Far North, Whangarei and Kaipara) and operated in a partnership which also includes the two electricity networks (Northpower and Top Energy).

There is potentially a more permanent solution to the confusion, in the form of a proposal to replace Northland’s existing tsunami sirens with more modern technology.

“The first of Northland’s tsunami sirens are now 10 years old. In that time, technology has moved on and there are now options available internationally which have greater reach, and also have a voice component to deliver more detail,’ Ms Harwood says.

The tsunami siren network is tested twice a year, at the beginning and end of daylight savings, which has always been an opportunity for people to re-familiarise themselves with the siren sound. The tests are accompanied by Hazard app messages (as well as advertising and social media publicity). The next test is scheduled for Sunday 27 September.