SEASIDE — Residents and tourists were left confused and startled Wednesday morning after hearing a tsunami warning alert instead of the regular monthly test siren.
A malfunction in the system replaced what was supposed to be a test message with an alert that advised a tsunami was approaching in four hours.
“For years, the city has been running monthly tests of the system on the first Wednesday of the month,” said Jon Rahl, the city’s public information officer. “While evaluating the system in December, the server that runs these warnings crashed. Early morning testing today led us to believe the system was back online and would operate correctly.”
The usual procedure was followed when conducting the test, Rahl said, but reports indicate that one of the pre-recorded messages the city has to warn of an actual emergency pre-empted the usual “this is only a test” message.
“We regret the error,” Rahl said, “but it’s also a reminder of why we do these tests and run them throughout the year. Tests give us the opportunity to evaluate what’s working, and in this case what’s not.”
About 15 minutes after the alarm, the Seaside Police Department sent email and text notifications explaining and correcting the error.
But Rich Trucke, owner of Trucke’s 1-Stop, said panic had already set in for some of his customers.
“‘It’s 11 a.m. on a Wednesday,’ I assured the panic-stricken tourists. ‘They test regularly,’” he wrote in a letter to The Daily Astorian.
A moment later, he wrote, someone hastily drove up, demanding gas to leave town. They told Trucke the system warned that a wave was coming in four hours. Another person told Trucke it was a mistake, but when he called the Seaside police non-emergency line, he was faced with a busy signal and no answers for all of the customers calling asking him questions.
“We never heard another report from the public warning system saying, ‘This is just a test,’ or any follow-up at all. Now I am answering phones and calming visitors. One customer had me dial his 95-year-old mother to let her know not to worry anymore, since he had called her earlier to have her pack her things for evacuation,” Trucke wrote. “Reaching only her answering machine, he left quickly. Were this an actual tsunami, how many would fail to get the true message?”
City management and the Seaside Police Department are working together to continually improve the system, Rahl said.