SEASIDE - The post mortem from Tuesday night's tsunami warning has zeroed in on one key issue.

What went wrong with the radio broadcasts?

Coastal communities went on alert after an earthquake off the California coast, which sparked some evacuations of beaches. However, there were reports of families still out along the shore in Long Beach, Wash., and nearby Fort Canby during the period of the warnings, which were canceled after more than an hour when geologists realized the quake wasn't the kind that triggers a tsunami.

The latest evidence suggests that many local radio stations didn't broadcast a tsunami warning Tuesday night. One exception was KCYS (98.1 FM), which did run a warning, getting its information from a U.S. Geological Service online program.

But the emergency alert system at KAST (1370 AM) in Astoria never triggered, said Operations Manager Tom Freel. No one was at the station mid-evening when the news broke.

When staff arrived to cover the tsunami warning, Freel said they did not realize the alert had not gone out. If the system had worked perfectly, the alert would have been transmitted only once. Without checking the tapes, the staff could not know about the problem, he added.

Freel reported on the tsunami a little after 9 p.m. He said KAST monitors Oregon Public Broadcasting as well as National Weather Service for emergency signals.

Rhonda Maronn, a staff member from OPB, the Portland-based broadcasting company, said an Emergency Alert signal was sent out.

That signal was not received by KAST.

Pacific County Sheriff John Didion said NOAA weather radios were working in Pacific County, Wash.

In fact, he said he was in the office of Stephanie Fritts, the county's Emergency Management Coordinator, and knew her NOAA radio alert went off.

Didion said he encourages residents to purchase NOAA radios and scanners as a way to share responsibility for keeping informed in emergencies. The county also has a reverse 9-1-1 system, which places calls warning residents in affected areas during an emergency, he said, and there is also a siren system. But he said the siren system doesn't cover the entire county.

Clatsop County Sheriff's Sgt. Robert Smith said retired Sheriff John Raichl notified local radio stations and advised them to activate the Emergency Alert System soon after the county's communications center learned of the tsunami warning.

Astoria City Manager Dan Bartlett told The Daily Astorian Wednesday that he believed things generally went well, but the only weakness in the city's process seemed to be getting notification out over broadcast media. He said there would be a debriefing session where city leaders would decide how to improve that.

Two local residents, Jim Putman, who owns Putman Pro-Lube in Warrenton, and Hammond resident Neal Kirsher, were so incensed by the snafu that they called The Daily Astorian early Wednesday. "There's one dune between me and the ocean," said Kirsher, who lives in the most northwesterly house in Oregon.

KAST's Freel said there were numerous emergency signal problems across Oregon as the tsunami alert was transmitted. He said KAST is working to resolve the signal problems, and will sit down with city and county officials to improve communication. He said the radio station would have liked to receive a call from Seaside officials when the city decided to evacuate.

The NWS's Jack Bohl said its system sends messages from the Portland NWS office through the phone lines to transmitters and then to local NOAA weather radios, including those owned by the radio stations.

The weather radios are supposed to automatically trigger a tsunami warning, even in stations like KAST, which was unmanned and automated at the time.

Dave Hammock from KMUN (91.9 FM) said the station also should get alerts from NWS and the Oregon public broadcasting network. He said KMUN did not receive an alert from either source when it should have.

The Weather Service's Bohl said because of a problem in the system, the emergency code sent out was distorted or not powerful enough, and the radio systems could not translate it as an order for emergency programming. He said the problem was probably in the phone lines between Portland and the transmitter for Astoria, which is an antenna located on Naselle Ridge in Washington.

"They're going to replace some of the phone lines," he said. The antenna and its connection to the phone lines will also be replaced, he said. "What happened last evening (Tuesday), it did get the process moving faster."

NWS has been working on the problem for at least six months, he said. As far as he knows, funding is not an issue.

"We've been doing the best we can to take care of it for a long time," he said. "It's a technical problem."

The good news from Tuesday's activities was some evidence of good neighborliness.

Residents in the Sunset Hills area of Seaside played host to between 300 and 500 evacuees during the tsunami scare Tuesday, Stubby Lyons said.

"Everybody was so congenial," Becky Sherlock said. "They were trying to help each other." Residents had extra cars in their driveways and along the streets and people in sleeping bags on their lawns.

Stubby and Sharee Lyons also let people use their bathroom and phone, loaned out sweatshirts and coats and gave out drinks of water. Both Sherlock and the Lyons'es were prepared to let some of the evacuees spend the night inside if necessary.

"It was a little messy up here and kind of disorganized," Stubby Lyons said. He had to direct traffic to get people out of the middle of the road. He heard some people did panic, and saw vehicles trying to drive much too fast or driving over curbs and other people's property. "It's just kind of human nature to save yourself and not care about the person next to you," Lyons said.

Lyons suggested special training for those on high ground so they would be equipped to handle evacuees. He said specially trained residents could help direct traffic. "I guess people in Sunset Hills have to be prepared to help," he said.

Lyons said the event was a very good drill. "You learn on the run," he said.

Reporter Sandra Swain contributed to this story.


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