The Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management began installations of new tsunami siren equipment across the borough this week. Siren equipment in the 14 existent locations will be replaced, and two additional sirens will be built in new locations, totalling 16 tsunami siren installations by the project’s end.
Work began Monday with the replacement of the siren at the Homer Harbormaster’s Office, followed by replacement of the siren at the Homer Ice Rink on Wednesday and Thursday.
The siren at Mariner Park on the Spit is scheduled for replacement Friday and Saturday.
The brand-new tsunami sirens will be located at Northern Enterprises Boat Yard on Kachemak Drive in Homer, scheduled for installation Aug. 9-10, and in Anchor Point at the KPB solid waste transfer site, scheduled for installation Aug. 10-11.
In addition to equipment installation, periodic testing of the new sirens will be conducted in order to ensure proper functionality. According to a July 20 post made on the OEM Facebook page, the sirens will emit a loud and attention-grabbing sound signal. This is a normal part of the test, and it may be audible in surrounding areas. There will be an accompanying voice message stating this is only a test. Community members near the vicinity of the sirens may also notice flashing lights installed on the poles for visual identification.
OEM urges community members to become familiar with the sound of the sirens and their purpose during the tests. In the event of a real tsunami warning, individuals in low-lying areas should evacuate to high ground when the sirens begin to sound.
The tsunami siren replacement project has been going on for the past year and a half, KPB Emergency Manager Brenda Ahlberg told Homer News on Saturday. Conducted in phases, the borough initially evaluated the current system, which was installed around 2006, to “address immediate gaps” before thoroughly evaluating what was needed going forward.
“Our system as it stands now actually rolled out in 2006, so it’s a bit antiquated,” Ahlberg said. “I like to tell folks, ‘It’s a system that functions, but very much like television with rabbit ears, we’ve got to go to Netflix.’ We’ll definitely be able to gain capabilities that we don’t currently have.”
The new system will allow OEM to do single activations of the sirens and also include text-to-speech or voiceover with microphones that the current system was never programmed to do, Ahlberg said.
“I think that is something that would be supportive to all of our municipalities,” she said.
The gap analysis also enabled OEM, collaborating with the City of Homer, to evaluate the need for increased audio and where those areas existed, determining that Kachemak Drive was “the best location,” Ahlberg said.
The borough designated Anchor Point as the second new location for siren installation based on the most recent tsunami hazard map created by the University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Earthquake Center in 2019, which includes the Anchor River and parts of Anchor Point as inundation zone. The solid waste transfer site, in addition to already being borough property, will also allow the “best propagation of sound” to the community, Ahlberg said.
The updated inundation zone maps also include the Fox River Flats, which may potentially impact the Kachemak-Selo community, according to Ahlberg. As such, the next phase of the project is to determine alternative measures OEM can take for that community in the event sirens can’t be installed due to insufficient access by road, she said.
The ongoing project, funded by the borough and federal pass-through grants awarded by the State of Alaska Division of Homeland Security, will continue to be implemented in phases after the new sirens are installed in the Kachemak Bay and Resurrection Bay areas.
“This project isn’t over just because we’re going to install the initial 16 sites,” Ahlberg said.
For more information, to see inundation zone maps or to sign up for KPB alerts, visit info.kpb.us/ or check for updates at facebook.com/KPBAlert.
Schedule for mass notification siren replacements
July 24-25: Homer Harbormaster
July 26-27: Homer Ice Rink
July 28-29: Homer Mariner Park
July 31-Aug. 1: Nanwalek
Aug. 2-3: Port Graham
Aug. 4-5: Seldovia
Aug. 7-8: Homer Fish & Game
Aug. 8-9: Homer Bishop’s Beach
Aug. 9-10: Homer Northern Enterprises Boat Yard
Aug. 10-11: Anchor Point Solid Waste Transfer Site
Aug. 14-15: Seward Nash Road
Aug. 16-17: Seward Marine Industrial
Aug. 17-18: Seward High School
Aug. 18-19: Seward Harbormaster
Aug. 21-22: Seward Fire Station