Many, many years ago I enlisted into the United States Navy. After boot camp and radioman training I applied for and was accepted to Submarine duty and was eventually assigned to the USS Swordish out of Pearl Harbor. Literally the, “son of a son of a sailor” I reported aboard for service and adventure!
The very first night I was aboard the submarine I was working scrubbing a bit of deck in the control room when the sirens went off and a voice came across the 1-A PA system announcing that there was a, “Fire in the Engine Room!” I had not even met my Chief and had no assigned duties, so I moved my cleaning gear out of the way and watched as the crew scrambled about as more and more reports came in of additional damage and I thought for a time that my career as a sailor would end quickly while we sank to the bottom of the ocean.
After a few minutes, more positive reports started coming in and eventually the officer of the day announced that the, “drill” was over and all hand should report to crew’s mess for a debriefing. When the debriefing was over I asked the chief of the boat why they had not announced that the supposed emergency was just a drill? He told me that they do that in the Coast Guard, but that Navy sailors would never respond quickly enough if they knew in advance that the activity was a drill.
Well, about two months ago we here in San Clemente all noticed as large trucks and workers erected a strong pole with panels and other mechanisms on the top right at the main intersection of downtown. I learned that the apparatus was a solar powered first alert alarm system specifically designed to alert the residents of this area of any tsunami alerts or warnings.
We all wondered what it would sound like and if it would be loud enough to awake us if we were asleep.
Several weeks ago we started getting Facebook alerts that there would be testing of the new siren system and then last week we were advised on Facebook and via text messages on all Ecuadorian cellular phones that there would be a drill on January 31st between the hours of 9:00 and 11:00 AM. We were all asked to participate in the drill and move to higher ground on assigned evacuation routes when the alert sounded.
So, this morning we were not overly disturbed when we heard the alarm and voice message announce the drill. Out of curiosity I hopped on my bicycle and headed downtown to see if people were responding to the drill. Fire department officials were driving up and down the primary roadways telling people to move to higher ground.
And the new siren was working away to alert people to the drill and “simulated” tsunami warning.
Many of the downtown shop owners and residents apparently were former US Navy personnel because they merely waved to the firemen and continued about their business. So, I rode on out to the school to see if the teachers and students were taking the alarm seriously. When I got there it looked like business as usual since the gate was shut and I could not see any children.
Nevertheless, I turned toward the highest ground in the area, the city cemetary, and headed there.
Oh yeah! Hundreds of school children, emergency personnel, ex-pat, and local residents crowded the roadway as I rode up the hill.
And more were walking up the roadway to join our group.
A man there told me that the cemetary is about 300 meters above sea level (just short of a thousand feet).
You can see the ocean in the distance, but we felt fairly secure at this altitude and I joined in the festive atmosphere there on the hill.
Our neighbor, Sol was there with her friends.
And scores of other friends called to have me take their pictures as we enjoyed free water (in plastic bags) and listened to the emergency management people talk about the drill.
Finally, the man with the megaphone announced that the drill had been replicated in communities up and down the coast throughout the provinces of Manabí and Esmeraldes. He thanked us for our particpation and sent us back on our way.
The police stood by for the orderly procession back down the hill and we all learned what the new siren and alert system sounded like.
All in all, a great day and hopefully we will not be hearing this alarm in the near future without the preamble announcing that it is only a simulation (drill)!
On a side note – our rainy season has started in earnest and yesterday it rained all day and was cool (lower 70s). We were all happy that our drill day turned out to be sunny and warm.
Life is good in Ecuador!