A number of municipalities on the West Shore are looking at implementing a mass notification system to help reduce confusion and chaos in the event of an emergency.
The Langford, View Royal and Colwood fire departments are seeking funding from their respective councils to purchase emergency response management systems (ERMS). The software will allow local authorities to send out information via text message, phone call or email to local residents about disasters or other emergencies.
“What if we had a wildfire, what if we had a flood? … We’re trying to be as consistent as possible so similar messages can be sent so there’s not mass confusion,” said Langford Fire Chief Chris Aubrey, noting the start-up costs for the system would be about $8,000.
“Not only can we notify all of Langford, we can notify neighbourhoods in Langford, we can notifying our members that would come in for our emergency operations centre, we can notify our emergency support service staff. We can do all that individually and give them different messages with one or two clicks of a button from our phones.”
The call for a mass notification system comes nearly two months after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck off the Alaskan coast, prompting a tsunami warning for coastal areas of B.C.
While firefighters from several West Shore departments went door-to-door alerting those in low-lying areas who could be affected, many residents said they didn’t hear about the warning until the morning after.
Currently, areas in the Peninsula and Capital Regional District use ERMS. The City of Victoria uses Vic-Alert, which allows people to register their phone numbers and email addresses to receive warnings, updates and instructions in the case of a disaster. Metchosin also has its own program called One Call Now. However, the rest of the municipalities in the western communities do not have such a system.
That’s when a committee, including members from the Langford, View Royal and Colwood departments started researching the most effective software to help streamline information between municipalities. The system would allow departments, to notify the public in certain regions and specific neighbourhoods if they need to evacuate and where the closest evacuation centres are to help reduce mass confusion and panic for residents in areas that would not be affected.
“We can isolate the area that we need to issue the warning to and the others don’t get it,” said Geoff Amy, emergency program co-ordinator with the City of Colwood. “We felt that having everybody notified of a tsunami warning only causes problems, it causes people to go up to Mount Doug or Mount Tolmie or the Malahat because they don’t recognize the hazard is for a specific area.”
In addition, the federal government announced it will be implementing a National Public Alerting System in April to help warn Canadians about dangers to life and property in a timely manner so they can take appropriate action.