First province-wide tsunami text alert system set to launch in April
The government says it will push tsunami alerts directly to cell phones in B.C. when it implements the first province-wide text notification system this spring.
As part of a federal initiative, the system will provide blanket coverage for tsunami alerts – bolstering the patchwork of systems independently managed by municipalities and regions around the province.
The need for a unified alert system was apparent on Jan. 23, after a 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Alaska.
The quake prompted tsunami alerts for much of coastal British Columbia, and towns like Tofino and Ucluelet activated emergency plans and evacuated low-lying areas.
The warning was eventually cancelled after it was determined that the waves the tsunami generated were too small to do any damage by the time they reached B.C.
Users who signed up for municipal text alerts such as Victoria's Vic-Alert received a warning text, but those who didn't were either left searching online for information – or slept through the incident entirely.
"It was a good reminder for people to understand the hazards of our area, so what might happen in Victoria and how to prepare for that," said Tanya Patterson, Emergency Program Coordinator for the City of Victoria. "A lot of people said they weren't aware of the public notification system."
Sign-ups for Vic-Alert soared the day after the tsunami warnings were issued, with the number of subscribers rising from 6,800 to 60,000.
But thanks to a recent decision from the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, a new, province-wide system will be rolled out in the coming months so residents don't have to subscribe to emergency alerts.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth confirmed the system would be set up in April with testing to occur in May.
"This will now allow [warnings] to go right out across the network to all cell phone users, and to my understanding is you'll be able to tailor it to a specific area," said Farnworth.
But he warned the new system, which will only send out alerts in the event of a possible tsunami, isn't a silver bullet.
"If your cell phone's turned off, you're not going to get an alert," he said.
Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne praised the new development, saying it will bolster other efforts the district has taken in the wake of the scare.
"I think this is really important, because it's not a system you have to sign up for. If you're in cell range of a tower and they use the system to alert you...anyone who's got their cellular data on is going to get the notification," she said. "What's equally important for us in Tofino is to make sure the systems are in place to take care of them once they're notified."
Back in Victoria, Patterson said while the new texting system will help keep British Columbians looped in to any future tsunami alerts, the city is still increasing education campaigns aimed at getting its citizens emergency-ready.
Victoria held 13 workshops for emergency preparedness in 2017, but the city says it's stepped that up to 30 workshops this year.
The next tsunami education night to take place at City Hall will feature earthquake and climate scientists and is scheduled for April 9.
Those wanting to enroll for Victoria's Vic-Alert system can sign up on the city's website.