Personal tools
You are here: Home TSUNAMI UPDATES Q&A on Port Alberni’s new didgeridoo sound for tsunami alert system
TSUNAMI FACTS

stormsurge

Q&A on Port Alberni’s new didgeridoo sound for tsunami alert system

June 27, 2015 The routine that reminds the Vancouver Island community of Port Alberni it could be hit by a devastating tsunami has just become a little more funky.

 
A pair of tsunamis generated by an Alaskan earthquake hit Port Alberni in 1964, which motivated the alarm system. An overturned car, cabin and debris are strewn together at the Victoria Quay in Port Alberni, B.C. in this 1964 photo. (Charles Tebby/The Canadian Press)

Q&A on Port Alberni’s new didgeridoo sound for tsunami alert system

The routine that reminds the Vancouver Island community of Port Alberni it could be hit by a devastating tsunami has just become a little more funky.

As of this fall, the sounds of a didgeridoo, a wind instrument created by Australia’s indigenous people, will perk up the monthly message that tests the tsunami-alert system of four speakers across the city of about 17,000 people.

In 1964, a pair of tsunamis generated by an Alaskan earthquake hit Port Alberni. The tsunamis swept up the inlet and damaged 300 homes and businesses.

The disaster spurred work on a local warning system that evolved, by 1992, into fixed speakers and a local tradition. On the first Wednesday of every month, the speakers blare out across the community to test the system that would alert residents to head for high ground. “This is a test. Only a test. A test of the tsunami warning system,” the message says three times.

Fire Chief Timothy Pley says his team wanted to lengthen the test of the system and decided this presented an opportunity to make it more interesting. As a result, this fall, the test message will include the sound of a didgeridoo. (A long siren and brief verbal message would precede an actual tsunami.)

The task of finding the new sound was given to civics students at Alberni District Secondary School, who considered some unusual options under the leadership of their teacher, Anne Ostwald.

“I love the didgeridoo,” Port Alberni mayor Mike Ruttan said. “I like the sound and the fact that it’s new and driven by the students.”

Freya Knapp, a Grade 11 student who worked on the project, spoke for the team in an interview with The Globe and Mail.

How did you look for possible sounds?

Everybody wrote down something they thought would be a neat idea. Then we were given parameters by the people who worked with the tsunami warning system.

Everyone had written down a song they liked. There was The Lion Kingtheme and that sort of thing. We had to rule those out because there were a lot of copyright issues. We also had to rule out higher-pitched sounds and lower-pitched sounds. The higher-pitched sounds would have messed up the tsunami towers so they wouldn’t be able to broadcast properly. Lower pitched wouldn’t be heard by the population.

Then we went with musical instruments. We looked at bongo drums and the didgeridoo. Piano pieces. My teacher wanted laughing babies. But when we actually listened to them on an outdoor speaker, it was just not a good sound. We also listened to heart beats. We thought that would be cool. But it was just creepy.

What was wrong with laughing babies?

I think when it’s your own baby or a baby that you know, it’s cute. But when it’s someone else’s baby that you can’t see and it’s just all around you – the system will echo quite a bit – it sounded odd, slightly creepy.

What were your own early ideas?

I definitely wanted whale sounds. Or duck quacking.

The fire department brought down their spare tsunami warning tower – one you can set up anywhere – to the stadium by our school and we listened to them outside, which was a really cool experience. When you hear them and they’re all around you, it’s really easy to cut out the ones you don’t like.

One we thought would be really nice was elephants. When it’s controlled in the classroom, it sounds funny and cute. But when it’s like raging elephants coming at you, it’s not as funny.

What made it to the short list?

We had a top three. We had bongo drums. There was also the didgeridoo. And we also thought of the Mars water bombers – the plane. It sounded like the flyby. But when we listened to it outside, we all looked up because we thought, “Where’s the plane?” It was an automatic instinct. We figured it would be confusing for residents.

What about bongo drums?

Again, we loved them. If the didgeridoo hadn’t passed, we would have ended up with the bongo drums.

It would have been the sound of bongo drums across Port Alberni?

Yes, but the didgeridoo was a crowd favourite. It’s bright. It’s cheerful. You can’t really help but move a little bit. It brings a smile to your face. Every time I’ve heard it – and I’ve heard it so much – it just brings a smile to my face.

Had you heard the didgeridoo before? Were you familiar with the sound?

One of the students in the class was familiar with it and she is the one who brought it up to us.

I am elated. I am so happy that this is going to be in effect in the fall. I can’t wait to hear it broadcast across the town.

My children will hear it and I will have been part of that. It’s really cool for all the people who were a part of it. It has totally been a team effort, every step of the way.

Have you ever played a didgeridoo?

I have never played a didgeridoo.

Are you tempted?

I think I might actually have to get a didgeridoo.

Have you had a reaction from the community?

Today, it was all over Facebook. It’s definitely mixed. There were people who thought we were changing the siren for when there is a tsunami. They didn’t quite get that this is just the test sound, but I feel like, overall, the feedback is very positive.

Do people in Port Alberni worry about a tsunami?

We actually haven’t had a big one since 1964, so it’s not something people are actually worried about. It’s just like having a smoke-alarm in your house. It’s very unlikely you’re going to have a fire, but it’s there in case there is and to keep people safe and protected.

Document Actions
  • Powered by Digital Information Systems and Technologies