B.C. Minister Promises Review of Alert System After Patchwork of Tsunami Warnings

The B.C. Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth says the province will be reviewing its alert system, following a tsunami warning to areas of B.C.’s coast. A 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Alaska, 278 kilometres southeast of Kodiak at a depth of about 10 kilometres. Environment Canada has initially issued a tsunami warning, but hours later it was cancelled and evacuations have been lifted.

Early Tuesday morning Emergency Management B.C. sent a warning about the tsunami threat to local communities, which then put their emergency programs into place.

According to Farnworth, each community’s own emergency plan, which is worked out in collaboration with the province, reflects unique needs.

LTE messaging, the system used in Hawaii to alert anyone connected to a local cellphone tower about the false missile threat, won’t be available in Canada until April.

That’s when the CRTC will start requiring all cell providers to provide AlertReady the ability to send out LTE messaging alerts on their networks. But even with that enhancement, it won’t help people who have their phones off or are in remote areas with no service.

Like SMS, LTE messaging allows an alert issuer to send a text alert to anyone in a designated geographic area based on which cell tower they’re connected to. But unlike SMS, LTE messaging uses a phone’s data connection rather than its much slower and more crowded telephony connection, so it doesn’t bottleneck the same way.

However, not all phones are capable of using LTE, and if you’re in a more remote or rural part of the country, you might not have access to an LTE network even if your phone is capable of using it.


How is such a system implemented? Who makes the call?

In B.C., Emergency Management B.C. is the only organization allowed to activate the system. But other provinces have opted for a more decentralized approach where individual municipalities — or even local police and fire department — can activate the system themselves. Take Alberta for example. They have over 900 users who could activate their alert system, which may lead to false alarms, but could very well be worth the tradeoff.


Another concern arises: would the alert reach enough people in time?

Kent Johansen, an engineer at UBC’s Earthquake Engineering Research Facility, says that speed is imperative when it comes to warning the public about earthquakes. His team designed and operates the earthquake detection and alert system that’s used by B.C.’s Catholic schools and a few public schools as well.

According to Johansen, we have roughly 16 to 26 seconds of advanced warning if it’s an intercostal earthquake. This means that traditional SMS text messaging just isn’t an option in that kind of a scenario. You can only send about 10,000 a second, and with almost 2.5 million people in the Lower Mainland, you wouldn’t be able to reach everyone fast enough.

Instead, Johansen says, we need dedicated earthquake warning devices — ideally in homes, but he says we should start with public buildings like schools, government buildings and even stores and factories.


Should a centralized or decentralized system operate? how should alerts be sent out?

Source article: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/emergency-information-bc-how-are-residents-alerted-to-danger-1.4499675

CRTC emergency alert system: http://www.crtc.gc.ca/eng/television/services/alert.htm

Tsunami warning on B.C.’s coast: https://globalnews.ca/news/3981296/bc-tsunami-warning/

LTE messaging: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/emergency-phone-alerts-1.4496464

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