British Columbia has never used the national Alert Ready system. In the face of disaster after disaster, that may soon change

Crouching on the roof of his childhood home, Jordan Jongema latched onto his dog and refreshed the dark screen of his dying cell phone and checked for updates from strangers on the threatening murky flooding of the city. ‘engulf.

He was relying on social media for updates on the flooding that quickly engulfed his parents’ home in Chilliwack, B.C., leaving him and Bernese Mountain Dog Bowser with nowhere to escape.

“If you weren’t really paying attention to social media and the news got out there was really no way to catch it,” said Jonegma, 30, who was eventually rescued by emergency crews. around 3:30 am Wednesday.

Jordan Jongema, 30, had to be rescued from the roof of his parents’ home in the Yarrow area of ​​Chilliwack, British Columbia, after flood waters suddenly increased overnight Tuesday. (SRC)

Jongema is among British Columbians who wonder why the province has never used the emergency communications system directly on your cell phone, known as Alert Ready, even as thousands endured conditions hell and high water again and again in a single year.

The series of natural disasters in British Columbia have caused the province to reconsider its strategy for the program, which has so far differed significantly from other provinces.

British Columbia, the only province that does not use the system

Statistics show that British Columbia has not used Alert Ready technology once since it became available to Canadian jurisdictions in 2018.

By comparison, Ontario has sent alerts over 200 times in the past two years alone for emergencies like tornado warnings and Amber alerts. Saskatchewan and Alberta sent 101 and 80, respectively, during the same period.

British Columbia’s strategy has been to reserve the system only for tsunamis, meaning it has not been used in any other emergency.

Not during “heat dome” week which broke national heat records and killed hundreds of vulnerable people.

Not during the brutal fire that devastated the village of Lytton in minutes, days after that same heat wave.

Not this week, during the most severe flooding the southern part of the province has seen in decades.

The province almost sent the very first alert on Tuesday

An alert was on the table Tuesday night when the city of Abbotsford desperately sought to evacuate several hundred people still to Sumas Prairie over fears that a critical pumping station was about to fail and release a “catastrophic” amount of new water in the flood zone.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the province was “ready to send it,” but the city ultimately refused as the alert reportedly reached thousands more in Abbotsford than needed, creating a potential for mass panic and more pressure on the maximum. emergency responders.

“They have determined that no, now is not the appropriate time to use this,” Farnworth said of town staff, who ultimately decided to go door to door.

“This is how these decisions should be made: by the experts on the ground. Not by the experts on Twitter, but the experts on the ground who deal with the local situation and understand the local conditions.

About 150 volunteers worked through the night to build a sandbag dam around the Barrowtown pumping station in Abbotsford, British Columbia on Tuesday. The city said the station was at risk of breaking down during severe flooding and, if it did, it would have been “catastrophic” for the community. (Twitter / erikdv)

Facing criticism from the legislature on Thursday over not using the program, Farnworth said the province would start using the system in the spring or next summer, starting with the fire-prone central interior.

Opposition Leader Shirley Bond and Municipal Affairs Spokesperson Todd Stone said the timeline was still too slow.

“It’s just not good enough,” Bond said.

“Not a quick fix”, said the minister

A number of BC municipalities and First Nations have created their own local text alert systems, from Vancouver Island to the Kootenays, but they do not have the same powers as Alert Ready.

Residents don’t receive warnings automatically – they must register – and local text alerts don’t sound Alert Ready.

Only the province has the technology to send loud, unsolicited alerts directly to phones.

Farnworth said the Alert Ready system “is not a silver bullet” and that there are bugs that need to be fixed before it can be widely used.

“We have indicated that we want to have a system in place next year … but we need to make sure it works in compatibility with existing systems. [local] systems that are in place that you don’t overlap and avoid duplication, ”he told a press conference on Wednesday.

He also pointed out that the system cannot work in places without cell phone coverage, which would have included parts of major highways in southern British Columbia that have seen hundreds of travelers trapped in mudslides and outbursts this week.

Jongman, the man rescued from the roof, thought on Tuesday of farmers who were only focused on saving their animals or recovering what they could from their flooded homes.

They wouldn’t have scrolled through social media or watched the news on TV, he said, but they might have heard the alert ringing phones in their pockets.

“I think it would have been a lot more helpful if people quickly understood the urgency. You hear that alarm go off on the phone… and it kind of gives you a little kick in the back,” he said. stated in an interview.

“Yeah, no, that would have been nice.”


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