Burton Chace Park in Marina del Rey was the site of a test of tsunami warning systems Friday, June 15th, that would alert nearby residents to the possibility of a tremendous tidal wave or other emergency.
Three manufacturers of high-velocity mass notification products were on hand to demonstrate their individual sirens and messaging devices and to explain how they would function in the event that a tsunami hit the coast and residents needed to be evacuated.
Members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Marina del Rey Station and the Los Angeles County Fire Department were on hand to witness the capabilities of the warning devices, and recording stations were set up at Mothers Beach, the Waterside Market and at basins A and B in the Marina.
County and local officials are hoping the signal will be able to reach their constituents and tourists all over the Marina. Judging by the rather feeble decibel levels received from various locations away from the park, according to witnesses who were in the Marina that day, the first test was not exactly a hit.
Argonaut editor and publisher Carol Hector was having lunch with colleagues the day of the tsunami testing in the Marina, where apparently the sirens were not as audible as were expected.
“Hoping to hear the tsunami siren test, we arrived at Shanghai Red’s before noon and requested to be seated on the restaurant’s waterside patio, which is next to Fisherman’sVillage,” said Hector. “We told the hostess what we were waiting for, figuring that she could explain to any diners who became alarmed. We also told our waiter.
“Having placed our orders, we waited in anticipation. At about eight minutes after noon, we heard a harsh, scratchy sound in the distance. The waiter bringing our food said he thought it might be the combined voices of a flock of sea gulls.
“Following that, we heard a far-off siren — so faint that none of the other diners on the patio even looked up from their meals. The waiter then offered his guess that what we were hearing wasn’t a siren, but rather the whine of a vacuum cleaner on a nearby boat.
“The siren repeated soon after, perhaps a little louder. Still no reaction from anyone on the patio.
“On our way out, the hostess told us they had heard nothing at all inside the restaurant.
“A local resident who overheard us discussing the test said she lived in a condo on the water nearby and that the siren, as we heard it today, would never have gotten her attention.”
Jim Bremmer, regional manager of the Whelan Corp. discussed his company’s device prior to the test.
“People in Marina del Rey will be hearing two things today,” Bremmer began. “One will be tones, which is similar to an old-school air raid attack and wails and alerts that are fairly penetrating and that will get people’s attention.
“They will also be hearing voice messages as well as the tones,” Bremmer said. “The import of that is that you need to tell people how to evacuate, you need to be able to tell people how to do it in multiple languages and you need to be able to do it live.”
John Adler from American Signal, a mass notification systems company in Milwaukee, told park observers his company had received “good reviews from other locations” where they have tested it.
A representative from Federal Signal Corporation, a Chicago company, stated that the range of the firm’s device is “roughly a 3,200-foot radius” and has “very clear voice capability.”
Each company issued a 20-to-30-second alert tone, an attack tone or wail and a verbal message.
Bremmer said that his system was designed to reach people throughout the Marina.
“The objective is on the outer edges of Marina del Rey, you need to have at least ten decibels above the ambient noise level. With the surf and breakwater, you have to have a fair amount of sound at that distance, so that a boater or fisherman will be able to clearly differentiate the surrounding acoustic noise level,” he explained.
“Generally speaking, the test was very helpful in finding out what these individual systems could do,” with both the voice and the tonal component, said Sheriff’s Lt. Rod Kusch, harbormaster at the Marina Sheriff’s Station.
“I’m 100 percent sure that you’ll be able to clearly hear the Whelan voice message from any of the outer perimeters of Marina del Rey,” Bremmer predicted.
Kusch, who was at the Marina del Rey Coast Guard dock approximately 2,000 feet from the testing location, said that “all of the manufacturers had varying degrees of audio quality. Some were easier to hear than others.”
At Mothers Beach, approximately 3,400 feet from the area where the sirens were located, none of the warning sounds were clear, including the voice message.
“Because the voice component is so important, what we learned is the necessity of speaking slowly, so that the message is audible,” Kusch added.
There has been no decision to purchase any of the warning devices. Any such purchase would require approval from the County Board of Supervisors.