Expect to get more emergency alerts pushed directly to your phone, radio and TV this wildfire season.
B.C.’s provincial government announced on Tuesday that local governments will have access to the Alert Ready system for floods and fires.
The Alert Ready technology, which pushes notifications to cellphones, radio and television, was previously only set up for use in B.C. during tsunamis, police incidents and Amber Alerts.
The expansion to floods and fires comes after the province faced questions during last year’s disasters about why the use of mobile notifications was so limited.
The province says the Alert Ready system is currently ready for flooding notifications and will be ready to provide fire alerts by early June.
The new tool is being welcomed by many in the Okanagan, including former evacuees and local governments.
After getting “very little notice” that her area’s evacuation alert had been upgraded to an evacuation order last summer, former White Rock Lake wildfire evacuee Theresa Johnston is among those happy to see the province expand the use of the Alert Ready system.
“The more information we get in a timely manner the better,” said Johnston.
Johnston, who lives on the west side of Okanagan Lake, said she heard from a neighbour last summer that her evacuation alert had been upgraded to an evacuation order and she packed up within an hour.
“It was pretty frantic, but thankfully we were prepared,” said Johnston.
It was a similar story for Johnston’s neighbour, Linda Legare, who was notified of the evacuation by a friend.
“She sent me a quick text and said, ‘I see you are evacuating.’ I said, ‘Wait? What?’ Then I checked and I checked quickly and it was true,” Legare said.
Legare is also applauding the expansion of the Alert Ready system.
“We need all the notice that we can get for any fire or flood. It is quick, it is fast. It’s just like Amber Alerts,” said Legare.
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Local government asked for expansion of Alert Ready scope
In most cases, it will be up to individual local governments’ emergency management officials to decide when to use the Alert Ready system.
In B.C.’s Interior, the City of Vernon and Columbia Shuswap Regional District are already applauding the expansion to fires and floods.
“We’d been asking the province to expand the scope of the Alert Ready for some time and [we’re] really pleased that they are making it available for foods and fires now,” said Derek Sutherland, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s protective services team leader.
In line with provincial advice, both local governments are planning to only use Alert Ready in the most serious situations, and continue with their existing notification methods in most cases.
“This tool is available to local governments if there is an immediate threat to life. What that means is let’s say there is a really fast-moving wildfire or a flash flood….that is when we can make the request in order to be able to use this communication channel. Outside of that, it would be business as usual for all of our other emergency notification systems,” said Christy Poirier, a spokesperson for the City of Vernon.
Currently, Vernon uses methods like news releases, social media and email notifications to get the word out. The city is also looking into other options to enhance notifications, outside of Alert Ready.
For its part, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District plans to keep using the Alertable app to notify residents of emergencies, as well as Alert Ready when needed.
“I do see [Alert Ready] as another tool in the toolbox and I really really like it, but we are not changing any of our systems because of it. I am really pleased that it is there and if we need to interrupt that cell signal or radio broadcast or television broadcast we now have that ability where we didn’t have that before,” Sutherland said.
The Alertable app also sends notifications to phones, but mobile phone users have to download the app to get the notifications. Alert Ready sends notices directly to phones without the requirement to download an app or subscribe.
Not a Silver Bullet
While announcing the expansion, BC’s Minister for Public Safety stressed Alert Ready isn’t a silver bullet and won’t replace other forms of notification
“There will be growing pains. People need to realize that. One of the issues that we have to be prepared for is over alerting where if you get too many alerts, people start to ignore them,” cautioned Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth.
Sutherland believes over-alerting will be easy to guard against.
“We are only going to use it when we absolutely need it so I’m not overly concerned about overusing the system. There [are] a lot of checks and balances in place with Emergency Management BC overseeing the use of the system as well. I am sure they will make certain it is not overused,” Sutherland said.
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