Shortly after Sitka received a tsunami warning alert, the school district opened Sitka High and Keet Gooshi Heen Elementary School for residents to move to higher ground. Parking lots at both schools were full. (Photo/Emily Kwong/KCAW)

When the Sitka Assembly met Tuesday night (01-24-17), many were still yawning from an early morning 7.9 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami warning. Fire Chief Dave Miller gave a rundown of evacuation procedures. For those wondering why it took so long for the tsunami sirens to go off, Miller said phone calls slowed them down.

“So they’re calling the fire hall and they’re calling the police department and asking the question, is this real?” Miller said. “Last night there were two people on duty. When I got there, we spent about the first 25 plus minutes answering the phones, saying yes it is real, you should move to high ground. We’re going to set off the sirens as soon as we can get off the phone with everybody and make this work.”

Miller said the confusion was understandable, after a false missile threat warning in Hawaii less than two weeks ago caused panic. He added it was important the sirens sound only after Sitka’s emergency response gets their equipment moving.

“And the reason behind that is we want to get all our equipment to high ground and get the schools opened before the mad rush happens,” Miller said. “We have to have our equipment available in case a real tsunami should come and a real wave should hit, we have to be able to deal with it.”

They set off the sirens around 1:20 AM, but Sitkans were already moving to high ground.

“About 25 minutes later there was nothing at the fire hall. Nothing. Just me,” Miller said. “It’s sort of eerie walking out of the fire hall, the doors are all locked, the lights are off. It was sort of strange doing that, wondering if I’m going to come back to all of this.”

Miller said, overall, he was happy with the city’s emergency response.

During special reports, the Assembly heard a financial update from Sitka Community Hospital. CEO Rob Allen said hat while revenue problems persist, they’re not in crisis…yet.

“I do want to emphasize that we’re not in a cash crisis at this point,” said Allen. “Our cash has been hovering in the $2.2 to $2.4 million range for the past several months, so we’re not building but we’re not going down too low at this point.”

The Sitka Assembly also approved, on first reading, an ordinance that would give more flexibility to the Planning Commission when scheduling meetings. Sitka General Code mandates the commission meet twice a month on set Tuesdays. This ordinance, would allow planning commission to choose when they’re going to meet and lifts the cap on how many meetings they can hold. And finally, the Sitka Assembly approved a liquor license renewal application for Talon Lodge on Apple Island and a standard marijuana cultivation license for Darren Phillips of Fiberflite.