In future emergencies, public officials want residents to be more informed

Jan 28, 2018

Homer Police Sargent Larry Baxter went to Homer High during the tsunami warning to help dispel rumors.
Credit Renee Gross, KBBI News

Homer’s emergency management officials gathered on Thursday for a debrief on the tsunami warning earlier this week. Officials agreed the evacuation went well as residents heeded the warning. But Fire Chief Bob Painter said there was still talk of what could be approved upon. 

"One of the things that we wish we would've had done was to early on appoint a public information officer for the city that could better track the incoming and outgoing information during the event rather than us trying to do that in-house," he said. 

This person would also monitor social media and correct misinformation. Police Chief Mark Robl said some rumors spread quickly during the warning.

"Some people were claiming that the water was completely gone out of the Kodiak harbor," Robl said. "And Seward got hit by a huge wave and things like that were getting out there, some really drastic misinformation, not just a little bit." 

There was also some confusion over which areas needed to be evacuated, with some people evacuating unnecessarily.

"We're hoping to have an inundation zone map published and our goal is to make that public fully aware of which areas need to be evacuated and where they're going to be safe," Robl said. 

During a borough-wide meeting on Friday, public officials in other communities echoed similar goals. There was also a discussion about residents not getting the warning quick enough. The borough’s Ready Notify program, which residents can opt into, calls numbers in its system with an automated message, but some phones never got the message or received it late.

"So government officials are going to be talking to the phone companies themselves, AT&T, GCI, and seeing if we can get that to be improved upon in the future," Robl said. 

However, a different automated system that sent out push notifications to phones Tuesday, which is run by the federal government, did work. Borough officials said they’re looking into the issues with Rapid Notify and said the system or cellular networks may have been overloaded.