It would be cliché to call the events of Jan. 23 a wake-up call, but that’s exactly what they were.
At 1:32 a.m. — as many were asleep — a 7.9-magnitude earthquake rattled the Earth’s crust, 25 km deep, 280 km southeast and off the coast of Kodiak City, Alaska.
At 1:38 a.m., the U.S. National Tsunami Warning Center notified Emergency Management BC (EMBC) that a series of tsunami waves could be heading south to our shores.
At 1:51 a.m., EMBC alerted local governments, emergency responders and media from coastal communities using the Provincial Emergency Notification System and Emergency Info BC.
At 2:15 a.m., a broadcast-interrupting message was sent through Alert Ready, while several communities along the coast activated their emergency plans and evacuated those at risk.
By 4 a.m., we were increasingly confident that a major tsunami was not imminent. Communities on Haida Gwaii and Vancouver Island had already registered a series of small waves. Seismologists at Natural Resources Canada noted that the Kodiak earthquake was a “strike slip” earthquake. It didn’t produce a tsunami because the plates slipped past each other sideways, rather than vertically.
At 4:12 a.m., authorities cancelled the tsunami warning for the B.C. coast.
We had come so, so close. It revealed to us that our systems do work, and in some ways, it was the ultimate training exercise. Communities up and down the coast put their emergency plans to an early-morning test, and by many accounts, they were successful.
While EMBC is tasked with co-ordinating emergency mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery at the provincial level, local governments inform the public of emergencies and evacuations.
This may soon change. As of April 2018, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission will require all wireless providers to relay public-safety notifications from alerting authorities to Canadians via the Alert Ready system. This means that anyone with an LTE phone within range of an LTE cell tower will be able receive Alert Ready messages. Tsunami alerts are among the many early messages that can be transmitted through the new system.
It will take time to work out the bugs, but this new regulatory requirement will go a long way toward ensuring public safety by expanding the reach of regional alerting systems.
In the meantime, EMBC has begun a review of the response to this event. What worked well? How can we improve?
We will be taking a detailed look at the ways we work in partnership with local authorities to keep British Columbians informed and safe. We’re committed to exploring all opportunities to enhance our emergency preparedness.
While the province carries out this review, I urge all British Columbians — not just those who live along the coastline — to consider their level of readiness. Does your household have an emergency plan? Have you assembled an emergency kit? Do you know your community’s emergency plan? How will they issue alerts?
Let’s not be complacent in our response to this warning. We all have a role to play. For tips on how to step up your emergency preparedness, visit: www.gov.bc.ca/PreparedBC.
Jennifer Rice is the MLA for North Coast and B.C.’s Parliamentary Secretary for Emergency Preparedness.