NATIONAL NEWS

Officials worry about confusion with Alaska’s tsunami-warning alert system

Jul 18, 2023, 1:29 PM

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Confusion around an emergency alert received by Alaska residents in areas not at risk of a potential tsunami after a major weekend earthquake could shake public confidence in the warning system, local officials said.

A magnitude 7.2 earthquake about 70 miles (111 kilometers) south of Sand Point triggered a brief tsunami warning for parts of southern Alaska late Saturday that prompted people to evacuate from low-lying areas. People as far away as Anchorage also received tsunami alerts on their phones, though they were not at risk of a tsunami, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

A warning issued late Saturday by the National Tsunami Warning Center covered an area about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of Homer to an area about 80 miles (128.7 kilometers) northeast of Unalaska. It was later downgraded to an advisory and then canceled.

Emergency managers and tsunami scientists said they were following their systems, which err on the side of caution and speed. But others worry that confusion around whether the tsunami posed an actual danger could erode public trust in the warning system.

“This is our concern: We’re going to have a cry-wolf situation where people aren’t going to respond to the warning anymore and they just won’t evacuate,” said Mark Robl, the police chief in Homer, who said dispatchers there received “hundreds of phone calls an hour” after the warning was issued.

A large earthquake can trigger a release of energy that can lead to a destructive wave. When sensitive instruments pick up such an event, an automated alert goes out. But there’s no time to immediately verify if such a wave is forming, said James Gridley, director of the National Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer.

“We issue a warning right away because we need to get anybody in the immediate area out of danger right away,” he said.

Then scientists with the center review data from buoys and other instruments to determine whether a wave is forming, and what size it is, Gridley said. Warnings are revised or canceled, though that part of the response can take about an hour, he said.

Alerts from the center also can trigger localized emergency responses, such as the sounding of sirens urging residents to seek higher ground.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough sounded its tsunami warning sirens, emergency manager Brenda Ahlberg said. Many in the region also received cellphone notifications. Wireless Emergency Alerts are sent to anyone in a geographic area of certain cellphone towers in zones that can be widely defined — which is why people in Anchorage received notifications.

While the alerts are a way to reach people quickly, broad notification areas can mean people get alerts when they don’t need them. Gridley said efforts were ongoing to better hone the system.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough currently can only deploy its sirens systemwide, but it plans to install soon a new tsunami siren system that will allow for precise, community-by-community warnings, Ahlberg said.

“Is it unfortunate that they have been false alarms, or is it fortunate that we have been able to deploy the system, get people out of harm’s way, and then realize it wasn’t necessary?” she asked.

National News

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage by U.S. Sec...

Associated Press

Homeland Security secretary names independent panel to review Trump assassination attempt

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has appointed a bipartisan, independent panel to review this month’s assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump, officials said Sunday. The panel members will have “extensive law enforcement and security experience to conduct a 45-day independent review of the planning for and actions taken by the […]

2 hours ago

President Joe Biden raises the hand of Vice President Kamala Harris after viewing the Independence ...

Associated Press

Kamala Harris is now in a bright spotlight as she fights to secure the Democratic presidential nod

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris is being thrust into the most scrutinizing of spotlights, suddenly the leading candidate to succeed party’s main hope of defeating Republican Donald Trump. She spoke multiple times with Biden on Sunday, according to people familiar with the conversations – a day after Biden huddled with his closest aides […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Biden’s decision to drop out leaves Democrats across the country relieved and looking toward future

HARPER WOODS, Mich. (AP) — After weeks of uncertainty about who would be at the top of the Democratic Party’s ticket in November, many voters expressed relief over the news that President Joe Biden would drop his reelection bid and began to think about who might replace him in a dramatically altered election landscape. Jerod […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, ...

Associated Press

Trump’s campaign quickly pivots to Harris after Biden announces decision to leave the race

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s campaign has spent the last year-and-a-half viciously attacking Joe Biden, ridiculing his policies, mocking his fumbles and relishing a rematch they felt they were winning. But they have also spent weeks preparing for the possibility that Biden might exit the race, readying a bevy of attacks against Vice President […]

4 hours ago

FILE - President Joe Biden listens as Vice President Kamala Harris speaks in the Rose Garden of the...

Associated Press

Democrats promise ‘orderly process’ to replace Biden, where Harris is favored but questions remain

WASHINGTON (AP) — Shortly after President Joe Biden announced Sunday that he would drop his reelection campaign, Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison had a message: There would be no automatic coronation for his replacement. “In the coming days, the party will undertake a transparent and orderly process to move forward,” Harrison said in a […]

4 hours ago

First lady Jill Biden, left, and second gentleman Douglass Emhoff, right, watch as President Joe Bi...

Associated Press

Biden’s decision to drop out crystalized Sunday. His staff knew one minute before the public did

WASHINGTON (AP) — At 1:45 p.m. Sunday, President Joe Biden’s senior staff was notified that he was stepping away from the 2024 race. At 1:46 p.m., that message was made public. It was never Biden’s intention to leave the race: Up until he decided to step aside Sunday, he was all in. His campaign was […]

5 hours ago

Officials worry about confusion with Alaska’s tsunami-warning alert system