VICTORIA -- Municipalities on the Saanich Peninsula are getting set to rollout a new emergency alert notification system for residents.

Sidney, North Saanich and Central Saanich are transitioning to a new service provider to offer an enhanced product for people living in the peninsula communities. As of March 25, “Saanich Peninsula Alert” will be administered through a new platform to inform subscribers of critical events, such as an earthquake, hazardous materials release or a damaging storm.

“We were advised by our previous provider that they were going to make some technical changes that would have made a lot more work for municipal staff and the users,” said Sidney Fire Department Chief Brett Mikkelsen. “We ended up finding a new service provider that offers us a more simplified product with enhanced service.”

The mass notification system enables emergency service providers to contact residents in the event of a critical situation. If the circumstances of the event require people to evacuate, instructions for safest routes will be included in the alert.

“In previous incidents there was a lot of reaction taken by people based on social media that was unnecessary, like evacuations,” said Mikkelsen. “We want to be able to get ahead of that and give people verified information so they can make solid decisions and not unnecessarily panic.”

The most significant change to the alert system is it allows subscribers to select multiple notification areas. The benefit to the users is, if they live in one peninsula community but work in another, they will receive emergency alerts for both communities. Whereas the current system only sends emergency notifications based on the subscriber's specific address.

“The new technology allows us to send out notifications to specific geographic locations,” said Mikkelsen. “So, for example, if there is a natural gas leak that affects a smaller area we can target that area and send a notification to those residents and it won’t affect people in other peninsula communities.”

Additionally, the enhanced Peninsula Alert will be made available to Saanich Peninsula visitors. They will be able to temporarily sign-up and receive alerts for any safety threats for the duration of their stay.

Over the coming month, existing Peninsula alert subscribers will get an email notification prompting them to register at the new website. They will be asked to update their notification details and preferred method of notification, be it by phone, email or text message.

New subscribers can sign up at any time by visiting their municipality's website.

“I would encourage everybody, if you are not already a subscriber, to go to your respective municipality’s website and sign up,” said Mikkelsen. “Its very important to be aware and have the best information in the event of an emergency.”

Mikkelsen says existing subscribers will not see a difference in the performance of the new service.