Birch Bay on track to receive tsunami warning siren

By Stefanie Donahue

It’s been 10 years in the making, but Birch Bay will soon get a much awaited emergency warning siren, which would be used in the event of an impending
tsunami.

The All Hazard Alert Broadcast (AHAB) siren will accompany signage located throughout Blaine and Birch Bay that identify tsunami evacuation routes and hazard zones. Officials with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office are hoping to see the structure installed sometime around the New Year.

Energy conglomerate Phillips 66 provided a $50,000 grant for the project last year. The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office division of emergency management and the Whatcom Community Foundation partnered to install the system.

The AHAB siren will be mounted on top of a 65-foot-high pole to be located north of the Birch Bay Visitor Information Center at 7954 Birch Bay Drive, the location of the new Birch Bay Park, said John Gargett, deputy director of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office division of emergency
management.

“It’s the most ideal location in all of Birch Bay,” he said. As of late last week, staff with the division of emergency management were waiting for final approval from the county to schedule the installation, Gargett said.

Gargett said he’s relieved the project is finally moving forward, but admits “you have to go through the process,” which in this case took several years. “It doesn’t just happen overnight,” he said.

Signs identifying tsunami evacuation routes and hazard zones were placed throughout Blaine and Birch Bay about four years ago but only a handful of the AHAB sirens can be found around the county, Gargett said.

Presently, he said, there is one at Sandy Point, another in Point Roberts and two others. By next year, emergency management staff hope to see two more, the one in Birch Bay and one
Bellingham.

The AHAB siren is capable of voice and tone alerts and can be controlled by state officials, emergency services personnel and the fire district, Gargett said.

While it’s typically thought of as a tsunami signal warning system, it can also be pre-programmed to warn of other hazards such as an earthquake or chemical spill, for example.

“It’s a great step forward for Whatcom County,” he said.

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