Residents took to Mount Tolmie early Tuesday morning after officials had issued a tsunami warning for coastal B.C. following the 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Alaska. Spencer Pickles/Black Press

Tsunami warning prompts Saanich to study emergency response

Should Saanich develop an alert system comparable to the existing system in the City of Victoria?

That is just one of several questions that a future meeting of Saanich’s public service safety committee will consider, as Saanich and the Greater Victoria region grapple with the aftermath of Tuesday’s tsunami warning following an earthquake off Alaska that reached a magnitude of 7.9 on the Richter scale.

Residents across the region including Saanich expressed concern, if not outright fear, that their local officials failed to adequately inform them. While some residents received text alerts, many only heard of the warning, when they received early morning phone calls from friends and relatives, who were either living in other parts of British Columbia subject to the tsunami warning, or who were following the news on other continents.

Many (likely the majority of Greater Victoria residents) slept through the alert, unaware of the earthquake and the tsunami warning it triggered until they had heard from friends, or checked various news and social media channels.

This aspect has raised concerns about the region’s ability to alert residents in cases of natural or human-made emergencies.

A survey of the 13 municipalities in the Capital Regional District (CRD) shows six municipalities notify the public in the event of an emergency. They include among others Victoria and Sidney. Since Tuesday’s earthquake and tsunami warning, their respective systems have seen significant surges in sign-ups. Vic-Alert now has some 30,000 subscribers, up from 6,000 before Tuesday.

Saanich — the region’s largest community — lacks such a system though.

“Why Saanich doesn’t have its own alert system is a good question,” said Mayor Richard Atwell, who chairs the public safety service safety committee. “Why every community needs its own system is another question that needs to be understood and addressed.”

The committee also consists out of a council representative (Coun. Karen Harper), Saanich’s chief administrative officer, the fire chief, the chief constable, the director of engineering, and the emergency coordinator.

Capt. Maegan Thompson of Saanich’s emergency services program said Saanich has looked at options for a public notification system, but such systems have limits. “One thing is that they are subscriber based, and not all the people in the affected area,” she said.

This aspect has raised the question of whether the region should introduce a system based on sirens, similar to systems in more rural regions of the province, such as the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Speaking with the Saanich News Tuesday, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps cautioned against such a system in an urban region like Greater Victoria, because it could actually send people everywhere into a panic.

Emergency plans for various types of disasters rely on matching mathematical probabilities with geography. For example, Tuesday’s tsunami warning was of great concern to the three Saanich areas identified as a tsunami hazard zones: Cordova Bay, and Portage Inlet. But for the rest of Saanich — in fact, most of it — Tuesday’s tsunami warning would have been of a theoretical nature.

“A bigger question is how prepared are we in Saanich and the greater region,” said Atwell. “How will we fare if the earthquake happened on our doorstep instead of hours away up in Alaska?”

This said, failure to accurately share public information in a timely manner can have far-reaching consequences: see the recent panic in the U.S. state of Hawaii, where a state employee sent millions into panic after falsely warning millions about incoming missiles by pushing the wrong button.

Just Posted

Head-on collision in Saanich draws attention to rural road safety

Saanich says additional road safety measures are already planned or underway

Watershed concerns prompt opposition to alternate Malahat routes

Motion submitted to Regional Water Supply Commission opposing highway in watershed

Remembering Nirvana in Victoria on Cobain’s 52 birthday

Nirvana played one show in Victoria on March 8, 1991 at the Forge

Vancouver measles outbreak prompts vaccine vigilance on Island

Island health authorities push measles vaccinations - and not just for kids

Flu season could last until May — Greater Victoria clinics offer flu shots

Vaccines are available through public health clinics, pharmacies and doctor’s offices

‘Riya was a dreamer’: Mother of slain 11-year-old Ontario girl heartbroken

Her father, Roopesh Rajkumar, 41, was arrested some 130 kilometres away

Greater Victoria Wanted List for the week of Feb. 19

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

Market volatility, mortgages loom over upcoming earnings of Canada’s big banks

Central bank interest hikes have padded the banks’ net interest margins

Hearings into SNC-Lavalin affair start today, but not with Wilson-Raybould

She has repeatedly cited solicitor-client privilege to refuse all comment

VIDEO: 8 things you need to know about the 2019 B.C. budget

Surplus of $247 million with spending on children, affordability and infrastructure

Tilray to acquire hemp food company Manitoba Harvest for up to $419 million

Tilray will pay $150 million in cash and $127.5 million in stock.

Tears, flowers at impromptu memorial for Syrian children killed in Halifax fire

The family had only lived in the Quartz Drive home for a few months

NDP candidates push for stronger climate action as Singh supports LNG Canada

Singh has tried to project unity in the party while facing internal criticism for poor fundraising and low support in the polls

‘Bullet missed me by an inch’: Man recounts friend’s killing at Kamloops hotel

Penticton man witnessed Summerland resident Rex Gill’s murder in Kamloops

Most Read