B.C.'s smartphone disaster alert system now up and running
Published Friday, April 6, 2018 6:44PM PDT
Last Updated Friday, April 6, 2018 7:20PM PDT
Next time you get a text message in the middle of the night, especially if it’s with an unusual tone or vibration pattern, you’ll want to pay attention.
British Columbia’s Alert Ready disaster notification system has now been activated for smartphone users to receive targeted warnings in the event of a tsunami.
“You can get very specific in terms of the targeting necessary," Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth told CTV News in his Port Coquitlam constituency office.
“Right now, the initial launch is dealing with tsunamis, then it is going to be expanded over time to include floods and fires. That'll happen when we're confident with the technology and how it will work.”
Test warnings from the Canada-wide Alert Ready system have crossed TV screens and radio waves for several years, but this is the first time the system can target smartphone users on LTE networks. A test of the text and broadcast systems is slated for May 9.
With the ability to target cell phone users in specific areas, veteran search and rescue volunteer and Silver Alert advocate Mike Coyle hopes the province considers adding notifications for missing seniors in life-threatening situations to the list of circumstances warranting an electronic bulletin to the public.
"We're not asking for a province-wide alert,” Coyle told CTV News. “A targeted alert to a neighbourhood could make a big difference. We know from lost person behaviour (that) most people who have dementia or other cognitive deficits, they don't wander much further than five to 10 kilometres."
Coyle wants to help families avoid the kind of heartache that comes with unsolved cases, such as that of Coquitlam senior Shin Noh. The 64-year-old had Alzheimer’s and was the subject of intense searches on Burke Mountain following his disappearance in 2013. He was never found.
“I understand it could be an issue if there are too many messages from the system,” Coyle acknowledged, “but if they can target them to a neighbourhood, and then it wouldn't fatigue downtown Vancouver when someone's missing in Coquitlam."
Farnworth isn’t closing the door on the idea, but says he’s prioritizing events that would trigger large-scale warnings, such as a wildfire evacuation or life-threatening flooding.
"The way technology is changing, the way our ability to get information out is changing, may well down the road impact what we add to the system," he said.