'Comprehensive' warning plan for Dunedin

Dunedin is as ready as it can be to respond to the threat of an approaching tsunami, despite calls for greater use of technology to warn those in its path, Civil Defence authorities say.

The assurance came from Civil Defence emergency management officer Glenn Mitchell, of Dunedin, as councils north and south of the city ramped up their own disaster response preparations.

In Christchurch, plans for another 25 tsunami warning sirens, to complete a network of 47 sirens along the city's coastline, were announced in March.

And, further south, Emergency Management Southland has launched a new cellphone alert system, designed to send text messages warning of impending threats, including tsunamis, to anyone who subscribed.

In Dunedin, the city had also begun adapting to technology, by offering subscription-based alerts through social media, but there were no plans to introduce a text-message option or fixed coastal sirens.

Instead, the primary response to a tsunami threat in Dunedin continued to centre on disseminating information through print, online and broadcast media, Mr Mitchell said.

Emergency services could be called in to raise the alarm in communities facing a direct threat, if needed, and a fleet of 12 vehicle-mounted sirens were also available as a back-up, he said.

''I think we have a comprehensive plan in place,'' he said.

That was despite strong lobbying of the Dunedin City Council by a new group, the Tsunami Action Network, in 2011.

Group founder Eddie Gray had argued the city's preparations were ''sadly lacking'', and a network of modern tsunami warning sirens was needed in vulnerable coastal areas.

Cr Lee Vandervis has also repeatedly argued for a new cellphone-based early warning system, and said when contacted this week Southland's new system was ''a small step in the right direction''.

However, it would not capture ''the vast majority'' of users, because it required people to register, and a national approach was needed to deliver a more efficient, cheap system, he argued.

Mr Mitchell said text-message alerts had been considered for Dunedin, but not pursued, because they required a ''significant proportion'' of the population to register to be effective.

Instead, all eyes were on the Ministry of Civil Defence, which was working with telecommunications companies on a nationwide system, he said.

The system, if approved, would allow Civil Defence warnings to be sent to all phones within range of specific cellphone towers in areas under threat, he said.

That would allow messages to be more targeted to people at risk, unlike a subscription-based model, which messaged anyone who signed up, regardless of where they were when an event occurred.

''That's really what we've been waiting for, that type of solution to come into play,'' he said.

Ministry capability and operations manager David Coetzee said yesterday work on a detailed business case was under way and due to be completed next month.

Implementation would depend on budget funding, but, if approved, the system could be rolled out nationally by the end of 2016, he said.

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