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West Shore municipalities to launch own emergency alert system

Residents to get neighbourhood-specific bulletins in Langford, Colwood, View Royal and Highlands
Alert November 2018
The alert sent to cellphones during the emergency alert test this past week.

Residents of Langford, Colwood, View Royal and Highlands will soon be able to receive neighbourhood-specific emergency alerts as the municipalities work to improve their public notification system.

The four communities are partnering with the Capital Regional District to roll out the Emergency Response Management System by January.

This alert system would be in addition to the nationwide alerts sent out by the Alert Ready system, which was tested across the country on Wednesday.

It would allow municipalities to send out hyper-local bulletins about earthquakes, tsunamis, hazardous-materials spills, power outages, missing children, and possibly even cougar or bear sightings in their area, said Colwood spokeswoman Sandra Russell.

“It has geo tracking, which means we could focus on, let’s say, the Lagoon neighbourhood. If there’s a tsunami, we can contact those people and let them know they need to leave the area,” Russell said.

This would be much quicker than the door-to-door notifications Colwood firefighters carried out on Jan. 23 when a 7.9-magnitude earthquake off the Alaskan coast triggered a tsunami scare across Vancouver Island.

The notification system, which sends out texts, emails and calls to landlines, is similar to the technology used by Victoria, Sidney, North Saanich and Central Saanich.

Victoria uses VicAlert, a subscriber-based tool that has sent out seven emergency notifications since the city started using the software in late 2016.

After the Jan. 23 tsunami warning, the number of subscribers jumped from 6,800 to 62,000, said the city’s emergency program co-ordinator, Tanya Patterson. The city has also sent out warnings on behalf of Victoria police when a robber with a firearm was on the run and last year when a house in James Bay accidentally gave out marijuana gummies to kids. Alerts have also been sent out for missing children.

Another 82 people signed up this week, Patterson said, which she believes was spurred by the Alert Ready tone that sounded on many, but not all, phones on Wednesday.

Sidney, North Saanich, and Central Saanich use a system called Saanich Peninsula Alert.

The District of Saanich has decided not to roll out a localized emergency notification system, said Megan Thompson, Saanich’s emergency program co-ordinator.

“The research we’ve done has shown that subscriber-based notification systems can be quite problematic,” Thompson said. Some people sign up out of curiosity even though they’re not residents of the municipality. As a result, they might get alerts that don’t apply to them, which creates confusion, she said.

Emergency Management B.C. is working on sending out area-specific notifications in the event of a natural disaster, Thompson said, so that would cover any incident that affects Saanich residents.

“The test Wednesday was of a system that notifies people based on the proximity to the hazards, which is a much more effective tool to notify people who need to be notified to take action,” Thompson said. “We still need to do door-to-door notification in the event of an evacuation. So all these systems are tools in the toolbox and we need to ensure we have more than one tool we’re relying on.”

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