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Maintenance error triggers false tsunami alarm

Posted: September 2, 2014 - 12:03pm
A bald eagle this morning sits on top of the tsunami warning tower on the Homer Spit near Mariner Park about 15 minutes after a false siren and tsunami warning was issued.  Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News
Photo by Michael Armstrong, Homer News
A bald eagle this morning sits on top of the tsunami warning tower on the Homer Spit near Mariner Park about 15 minutes after a false siren and tsunami warning was issued.

An error made during maintenance of the National Weather Service, Anchorage, alert system caused a false tsunami alarm this morning. At about 10:20 a.m., tsunami warning sirens on the Homer Spit, Ocean Drive and Bishop’s Beach went off, causing some people to evacuate and the Homer Police Department to get inundated by calls. The alert also directed people to listen to local radio.

“A live code got sent out inadvertently,” said Dan Nelson, program coordinator for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management. “That code got sent out and every warning system we have got activated.

Nelson said in an actual emergency, the National Weather Service would receive information on tsunami warnings from the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, Palmer. The weather service then issues live codes to agencies like the Office of Emergency Management. No tsunami warning was issued, but the live code indicating a warning went out by mistake.

“The up side of this is everything worked as it was supposed to, but it wasn’t supposed to be going off,” Nelson said. “We certainly don’t want to cry wolf, but that was the error from Anchorage that caused this.”

Once emergency officials realized it was a false alarm, the Office of Emergency Management issued an all-clear and notified local authorities. Homer Police Department Lt. Will Hutt said Homer Police received a call from borough emergency management and notified the Homer Volunteer Fire Department, the harbormaster and local media, including the Homer News. The Homer News put up an alert on its webpage, www.homernews.com.

The borough message said, “This is an all-clear. The test is now complete.” Nelson said that was a prerecorded message, and the Office of Emergency Management used it to get an all-clear out quickly. There had not been a test.

“We weren’t meaning to confuse anybody,” he said.

KBBI Public Radio, AM 890, also put out messages saying the alarm had been false.

On the Homer Spit, two fishermen from Wasilla heard the siren and started evacuating. Alfonso Kahlstorf said they didn’t want to become part of Davy Jones’ locker.

“We were throwing stuff in our truck and getting ready to book it,” said Ed Hoffman.

Hutt said other people also started evacuating, including other Spit campers, staff of the Homer office of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, located on Douglas Street off Ocean Drive and right next to the tsunami warning tower, as well as students and staff from Fireweed Academy on East End Road. The police department also got swamped by hundreds of calls, Hutt said.

“We couldn’t get lines out there were so many calls. Some were 911 calls,” he said.

In an actual emergency, officials will direct people to listen to local radio as well as the National Weather Service weather radio. In today’s false alarm, there was no information on a tsunami on weather radio and no alert on the tsunami warning center’s website.

Nelson said the National Weather Service is investigating the exact circumstances of how a live code got issued and will issue a statement later.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.

 

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