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

Graduating Saanich students have overcome hardship

Claremont and Reynolds Grade 12s among the recipients of scholarship from Horation Alger Association

Victoria Harbour most polluted on B.C. coast: study

City’s industrial past and more recently, pharmaceuticals, create high levels of pollutants

Watch for high winds today and tomorrow

A wind warning is in effect for Greater Victoria. According to Environment… Continue reading

Experts to capture and collar 20 female deer in Oak Bay starting this month

Does sedated, examined, collared and ear tagged in latest phase of deer management plan

Victoria dog attacked by otters off Dallas Road

Off-leash dogs and wildlife can make for a poor mix, veterinary staffer says

WATCH: Vancouver Island man catches dashcam video of near head-on crash

Video shows oncoming van cross over centre line

Saanich councillor wants tax credits for political donations

A Saanich councillor would like to see tax credits for residents who… Continue reading

St. Michael’s advance to finals at Senior Girls Basketball Provincials

St. Michael’s University School of Saanich and Alberni District Secondary School (Port… Continue reading

B.C. files new legal action against TransMountain pipeline

Province tries to uphold City of Burnaby bylaws, provoking Alberta

Reports of money laundering in B.C. real estate ‘troubling’: attorney general

News report alleges people connected to fentanyl trade are using B.C. real estate to launder money

OLYMPIC ROUNDUP: Two more medals for Canada, and men’s hockey loss

Team Canada shines on the speed skating track, but fall short against the Czechs in hockey

Air ambulance used parking lot for patient transfer because it was most efficient option

Lack of certification for helipad at Comox Valley Hospital not a factor in decision

Saanich couple open Art in the Barn gallery

Converted horse barn now an art space

RCMP member challenges court to prevent further disciplinary action

RCMP member launches appeal to avoid new hearing over alleged harassment

Most Read