Expensive and outdated tsunami sirens has Curry Co. turning to technology

CURRY COUNTY, Ore.– Tsunami sirens will no longer be used by Curry County. That’s after a recent vote by the county board of commissioners.

According to Curry County Emergency Management, most of the sirens have stopped working and new technology like cell-phones are far more efficient and cost-effective in getting information to the public.

“This set of beaches, this is one of the more photographed beach areas here in Curry County, especially if you’re just coming back from Meyers creek,” said Jeremy Dumire, pointing out Pistol River along Highway 101. “There’s no siren. Never has been.”

For years, Curry County relied on 17 tsunami sirens covering over 75 miles of coastline. After becoming emergency manager for the county two years ago, Dumire says only four of those 17 are actually operational.

“There are some sirens that haven’t worked in over a decade,” he said.

As he drives along the coast pointing out areas where sirens have begun to decay, Dumire describes the futility of using them in this day and age. He says in order to get the farthest reach for each siren, they must be equipped with metal heads for optimal frequency. In the salty air, that metal ends up eroding much faster if it’s not used every day.

He says every several months he would need to repair the heads which would cost nearly $22,000 for each head. If he needed to repair the whole motherboard and power system – $50,000 to $100,000.

Dumire says the county has instead been using emergency alerts through phones such as Reverse 911 and Wireless Emergency Alerts as well as using local law enforcement and volunteers through CERT. Those systems are significantly cheaper.

“The Everbridge system, that costs the county $6,500 a year to operate and maintain compared to a $22,000 tsunami siren head,” he said.

Even then, the alert systems are only good for tsunamis created by earthquakes in distant places like Japan or Alaska. The time for when one of those would hit is at least four hours, according to Dumire. Since 1933 though, 31 distant tsunamis have been registered in Curry County. In the past, significant damage has been done to coastal areas from those tsunamis but Dumire says they would only reach the beaches and ports, nothing further inland.

But if one were to hit locally, it would be devastating on top of the damage the earthquake would leave and there would be little need to send out an emergency notice.

“The ground-shaking is the best warning we get and we would expect the tsunami to arrive in about 10 to 15 minutes from the start of shaking,” said Dumire.

In that case, people should evacuate and head for the highest ground they can find. The last major earthquake registered at 8 or higher was back on January 26, 1700. The last 10,000 years have seen 40 of those according to Dumire’s data.

There is still a lot scientists don’t understand about earthquakes and tsunamis but the data is showing that one is inevitable.

For Dumire, this is a matter of educating the public and finding the best way to warn as many people as they can.

“We could have one while you and I are driving this truck right now,” he explains. “We could have one in thirty years. We could have one in a thousand years. There’s no way to predict it but we know we will have one.”

In order to get the alerts from the county in case of an emergency, you can sign up at the Curry County website. It’s encouraged you include all your current phone numbers so you can be notified.

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