SEASIDE - Why did Seaside wait so long?
That was a question being asked today as agencies up and down the North Coast continued their post-game analysis of last week's emergency.
The Seaside Police Department received the tsunami warning at 7:58 p.m. June 14, but the sirens were not sounded until 8:50 p.m. The alert was canceled at 9:18 p.m., county officials said.
The actions followed an earthquake off the coast of California. Emergency managers issued a tsunami warning and broadcast it for more than an hour on West Coast television channels, although federal scientists soon determined the quake wasn't the type of quake that caused tsunamis.
City Manager Mark Winstanley said the city used the time to get fire and police staff into place to coordinate the evacuation, especially to direct traffic at all intersections. Staff worked to try and find out whether the emergency was real to avoid an unnecessary evacuation if possible.
Department heads met at the police station to plan the evacuation.
Winstanley said evacuations can result in traffic accidents or stress-related medical calls, so ordering an unnecessary evacuation is a bad idea. "We almost always have medical calls during an evacuation," he said. Firefighters responded to an emergency call in the middle of the event, he said.
City officials met Thursday to discuss ways public safety could have manned the intersections faster. Winstanley stressed that while improvements can be made, he believed city staff did a very good job during the event.
"Even on an event that's fairly distant, we don't get a lot of information from the state or the federal government," Winstanley said. "It has to be a local call." He said after the varying responses to the tsunami warning, including Newport's failure to evacuate, the state is considering taking control of the system. Winstanley said that would be a bad idea, as state officials cannot know when emergency personnel are in place.
Oregon Emergency Management official Jay Wilson said the state will help cities assess how decisions were made, but he would certainly not second-guess the evacuation timing. Wilson, the OEM Earthquake and Tsunami Program Coordinator, agreed the decision was for Seaside officials to make.
Seaside Police Communications Manager Lynn Smith said the department received the warning from OEM over a teletype system for law enforcement messages. "That's the way it should happen," she said.
But some residents had complaints.
Rose Tuttle, a Seaside resident who lives near Avenue K and South Downing Street, said cars were backed up so far people would have been killed if there had been a real tsunami. "There was utter gridlock," she said.
Burr Allegaert of Surf Pines in Gearhart scolded the National Weather Service for not telling weather radio owners like himself that their radios were not working. "The Weather Service has known for months that their signals aren't going out," he said.
He isn't satisfied with NWS' efforts to fix the problem, and said staff at Radio Shack, which sells most of the radios local citizens get, weren't aware of it either. "I think the Weather Service needs to be brought to task for not divulging to the public," Allegaert said.
City effortsElsewhere around Clatsop County, city leaders and county officials responded quickly.
Chief Deputy Paul Williams, of the Clatsop County Sheriff's Office, said the Astoria Dispatch Center got the tsunami bulletin first, "got the ball rolling," and notified the county's Emergency Operations Center (EOC).
Sheriff's Sgt. Robert Smith, in a memo to Williams, noted that the Clatsop County Emergency Operations Center notified him of a tsunami warning at approximately 8:10 p.m. He alerted colleagues and other agencies, including Oregon State Police, and set in motion efforts to dispatch deputies and reserves to key points.
Retired Sheriff John Raichl assisted by notifying local radio stations and advising them to activate the Emergency Broadcast System, although KAST and the five other New Northwest Broadcasters stations were unmanned.
WarrentonIn Warrenton, Fire Chief Ted Ames said he decided to summon firefighters to stand by at each station after he found about the warning Tuesday night. He said initial information didn't justify going immediately to a full-blown evacuation. He went to the Warrenton City Commission meeting, which was in progress, and informed City Manager Ed Madere and the commissioners of the warning. The meeting was adjourned immediately.
Then, after talking with Madere, Ames said he decided to send fire engines to the Peter Iredale and Sunset Beach approaches and to the Warrenton Soccer Complex on Ridge Road, the city's designated evacuation site, where 20 to 30 cars were parked. "Then, just as we were thinking we needed to turn on the siren, the bulletin came to stand down," Ames said.
Ames said Warrenton does not face the same type of tsunami threat as Seaside and Gearhart, because it's more inland. "Our threat would be something coming up the Columbia River. That's where our threat would come from," he said.
Ames said written procedures are in place for the fire department and the city on how to react to emergencies.
Astoria on alertAstoria City Manager Dan Bartlett heard about the tsunami bulletin about 8:10 p.m. Tuesday, when Astoria Police Sgt. Brad Johnston telephoned him. Bartlett said it's standard procedure for all of the law enforcement agencies and fire departments dispatched by Astoria 9-1-1 Regional Dispatch to be notified when a warning comes in. Bartlett said he is notified if the Emergency Operations Center might be activated.
Bartlett had been watching television when he got the call, but he checked the channels and no tsunami information was being broadcast. He also heard nothing on the radio. So he checked NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey Web sites on his computer. By the time he found the tsunami information, at 8:30 or 8:45 p.m., Bartlett said Astoria Police Chief Rob Deu Pree called and said it was all over.
"If the event had gone forward, I would have notified elected officials and decided what level of evacuation would be necessary," Bartlett said. As part of the city's "All Hazards" emergency plan, Bartlett said department heads give advice and he and the city council decide what to do. For a distant tsunami, he said, the question is whether to shelter in place or evacuate.
For most of Astoria, the inundation zone ends at the railroad tracks, Bartlett said, but some areas, including KAST radio and some houses along Youngs Bay and in Alderbrook, would be in danger. He said water could possibly come across West Marine Drive and into the Astoria High School parking lot. Bartlett said police officers could drive by those places with loud speakers, shouting warnings.
"In our case, even if there was a tsunami, we probably would have very little damage," Bartlett said.
He said a map of Astoria's inundation zone can be accessed at the Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) Web site by clicking on the tsunami page.
Pacific CountyIn Pacific County, Wash., Sheriff John Didion said he and Stephanie Fritts, the county's emergency management coordinator, worked together after they received the tsunami bulletin Tuesday night.
Unlike NOAA weather radios in Clatsop County, the ones in Pacific County gave the warning. Didion said they immediately called all of the fire departments, which used 4-wheel drive vehicles to tell people to get off the beaches. Washington State Patrol and county sheriff's deputies assisted.
Meanwhile, Didion and Fritts watched Northwest Cable News channel, which was monitoring the tsunami situation.
"We decided to wait four or five minutes to see if the tsunami bulletin would be canceled," Didion said. "We needed to balance creating gridlock for a bulletin" against the need to evacuate if a tsunami was definitely on the way.
Didion said he and Fritts split up their duties. While Fritts was on the computer mapping out the areas that would need a reverse 9-1-1 call, Didion recorded two messages. One would tell people to stay off the beaches; the other would advise them to evacuate. He decided the automated phone calls should go out with the first message. He also put the message on the scanner, which he said many Pacific County residents have. Some people chose to evacuate, Didion said, but there was no panic or gridlock.
"It's the best we've got," Didion said. "We don't have a complete system of sirens."
Cannon BeachAnyone with comments on how Cannon Beach handled the tsunami evacuation is invited to contact the fire department at (503) 436-2949, write to P.O. Box 24, Cannon Beach OR 97110, or stop by the fire station at 188 Sunset Boulevard.
"We're very interested in what the public thinks about how the evacuation went," said Fire Chief Cleve Rooper. "I'd like that input so we can help tailor our plan for the next one."