City changes confusing tsunami alarm

Brady Weidner, head of Depoe Bay public works, sits at the control station for the city’s emergency warning system. Brady said the city-hall based equipment and five 50-foot-tall towers are currently “silent-tested” by computer. (Photos by Rick Beasley)

DEPOE BAY — A tsunami warning system that fell silent after an early test triggered complaints of an alien invasion is being updated with “Westminster chimes,” according to the city’s head of public works.

City Superintendent Brady Weidner said the renovations would allow five sirens dispersed throughout the city limits to be tested daily or weekly. The original alarm-messaging software supplied five years ago by Wisconsin-based American Signal Corp. mispronounced the city’s name and used actual “whale songs,” by real pilot whales, as the test alert.

“We were told it sounded like aliens landing,” recalled Weidner, who feels English bells at noon would renew confidence in the warning system. “It boils down to common sense on how to use those things.”

Weidner said the base station and 50-foot-tall towers are currently “silent-tested” by computer, much like A-bombs.

“People want to hear it, especially the locals invested in our community,” he asserted. “They’d feel more comfortable knowing the system is working, rather than just hearing ‘trust me.’”

Efforts to gird the town from a natural catastrophe have been quietly ongoing for years, commented Weidner. State officials pronounced the town of 1,400 people “tsunami ready,” mentioned in getaway signage at a dozen street corners. Besides the $250,000 tsunami warning alarms, Weidner reported the city has: outfitted a portable emergency radio trailer as a link to the outside world; stashed caches of food, portable generators and water purification equipment on high ground; and packed a trauma trailer with medical supplies for up to 1,000 people.

Weidner said future plans call for a portable desalination plant to create fresh water from the sea. In the meantime, a technician from American Signal’s Milwaukee headquarters will have to make upgrades to the warning system in Depoe Bay, though no date has been set.

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