PENAGA: Ever wonder what a tsunami alert siren sounds like when it goes off?

Just imagine the sound of an air raid siren, frequently heard in war films, and you’ll get the idea.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department has installed more than 50 tsunami sirens nationwide to alert those staying in coastal areas, as well as fishermen at sea of possible tsunami or huge waves approaching the shores.

The sirens, were first installed following the deadly Boxing Day tsunami back in 2004. That tsunami saw 10-metre-high waves pound the coasts of Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Indonesia was the hardest hit, with more than 130,000 people dead, while Malaysia lost 68 people to the killer waves.

Tide gauges installed by the coastline will measure tide levels. A floating buoy is placed deep in the sea to measure the size of the approaching wave.

The department will receive the signals transmitted by these two devices and would then alert the people through the sirens.

The siren will sound for 10 seconds. A warning announcement, both in Bahasa Melayu and English, would be made to remind the people to steer clear of the beaches and river mouths.

The sound of the siren and volume of the announcement can reach as far as two kilometres away.

At the exact time the siren goes off, elected representatives and other relevant authorities will be notified with alerts via SMS (Short Message Service) and phone calls.

Once the threat is over, the siren will go off again, alerting the people that the danger has passed.

Penang Meteorological Department meteorology officer Nurul Salwa Abdul Ghani said the department conducts scheduled maintenance checks once every six months on the siren and the other two devices.

These are usually done in April and October.

“We make sure that the battery cells and solar panels are supplying energy to the circuit board, which will sound the siren when our people at the headquarters trigger it.”

Nurul Salwa was met during the department’s scheduled tsunami alert equipment tests near the Hidayah mosque in Kuala Muda this morning.

The maintenance checks were carried out simultaneously in three locations today - Kuala Muda, Kuala Terengganu and Miri. Officers from the respective states would also visit other locations this month for scheduled testing and maintenance checks.

The location where the tsunami siren is located near the beach at Hidayah Kuala Muda Mosque, Penaga, Seberang Perai Utara, to facilitate surrounding residents to act early in the event of a strong tsunami. This siren is able to sound with a radius of two kilometers. Pic by STR/AMIR IRSYAD OMAR