Tsunami Preparedness Week highlights education, preparation — even on the east coast

It’s officially Tsunami Preparedness Week in B.C.

From April 9–15, governments and emergency management organizations are sharing tips and educational pieces on how to deal with a potential tsunami.

The education week comes shortly after a government announcement of a new national public alerting system. Alert Ready’ as it is called, will send localized emergency alerts to residents through a standardized system.

Read More: New mobile alert system set to be tested in B.C.

The alerts will appear in the form of a text message on LTE-compatible smartphones. The new system will be tested in B.C. on May 9 at 1:55 p.m.

Howie Siemens, the emergency program coordinator for the Comox Valley Regional District, said the new alert system will supplement existing emergency warning systems on Vancouver Island. Current alerts can include sirens, door knocking by police/fire officials, push notifications, text notifications, broadcast alerts, social media posts, and other warnings, depending on the likelihood of a tsunami in that community.

Siemens said it will be “good to have another tool in the toolbox” for mass notification of B.C. residents in the event of a crisis emergency.

“Having materials that are provided by the province to local governments that are free is very important because it allows the public to receive updated, good information from experts as to what to do during a tsunami,” he said. “And it identifies where on Vancouver Island and the West Coast [are] high risk.”

A need for preparation

On the early morning of Jan. 23, a tsunami warning was issued in some parts of Vancouver Island following a 7.9 magnitude earthquake about 279 kilometres off the coast of Alaska. While the east coast was unaffected, sirens were sounded in west coast communities like Port Alberni, Tofino, and Ucluelet, where people in low-lying areas were told to evacuate to higher ground.

Read More: Tsunami warning prompts evacuations in Port Alberni

Even though the tsunami warning was ultimately called off around 5:30 a.m., some people felt the emergency alerts were confusing or ineffective. Some people complained that they were notified of the tsunami warning by their families and friends.

“What gets me is that, if the earthquake was at 1:30 a.m., why did the emergency notification from the district get to me at 3:49 a.m.?” said Ucluelet resident Ed Chernis on the morning of the evacuations. “I had to rely on a neighbour to come pounding on our door to let us know.”

Siemens says even though the east coast of Vancouver Island is in a low-risk zone for a tsunami, that being prepared for such an emergency is a worthwhile endeavour.

“We don’t just stay in our own communities. We travel for vacations and sometimes find ourselves on the west coast, where we might put ourselves at risk of a tsunami,” he said.

The last tsunami to hit Vancouver Island occurred in March 1964, when Port Alberni was hit with a large wave in the middle of the night. The wave moved cars and houses and flooded much of the city’s industrial waterfront.

–With files from Susie Quinn, Andrew Bailey/Black Press

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