DAILY NEWS Nov 13, 2012 11:04 AM - 0 comments

B.C. revamps tsunami warning system to be faster, more social media-savvy

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The British Columbia government is revamping its emergency notification process for tsunami warnings, after conducting a review of its response following a large earthquake and several aftershocks that struck off the coast of the province’s mainland in late October.

WaveThe EMBC currently receives alerts directly from the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre (WCATWC). Now, EMBC will forward those alerts immediately to a priority emergency e-mail distribution list that includes all local authorities and first responders that receive provincial emergency notification system (PENS) updates. The distribution list also includes major provincial media contacts.

EMBC will also be more aggressive in using social media channels for warnings. It will be posting information on its Twitter account, @EmergencyInfoBC, blog and other social media outlets to continue to update British Columbians throughout a potential disaster.

The province is also working on determining “approved Twitter partner accounts” that EMBC can retweet for confirmed B.C.-specific information.

The EMBC blog will also have a mobile version, and residents with RSS capabilities on their smartphones can sign up for alerts from the department. EMBC will also provide digital recordings of the latest tsunami warning information on its SoundCloud site.

The new measures, announced Monday by the Ministry of Justice, come after a 7.7-magnitude earthquake struck near Haida Gwaii, prompting tsunami warnings for parts of B.C, the U.S. west coast and Hawaii.

The province, however, reportedly sent out its tsunami warning about 40 minutes after the U.S. government, leading to some criticism that it was too slow to respond.  

“As we experience ongoing seismic activity in this province and the tsunami warning in late October, it’s a good reminder of the critical importance that British Columbians have timely and accurate access to information in the event of a disaster,” the province’s justice minister and Attorney General Shirley Bond noted in a statement announcing the new measures.

B.C. map“We made a commitment to review our earthquake and tsunami response and we are now taking action to implement some of the early recommendations identified,” she added. “We have also been in direct contact with those mayors who expressed concern about B.C.’s emergency response reaction time and have communicated with regional district board chairs, local authorities and first responders, gathering their feedback. As we continue with the review, this will be incorporated into further action steps we can take to ensure public safety is protected.”

The changes to the warning process were accelerated after the United States National Weather Service (NWS) also told EMBC over the weekend that it’s changing its own service delivery system for the province and other parts of Canada.

The NWS will no longer issue e-mail and SMS tsunami notifications to the public, most local authorities and emergency responders, beginning in a month. Instead, it will set up an alternate provider for alerts, although details of that initiative aren’t yet clear.

The NWS also sends out warnings through its NWS Tsunami Alerts Twitter account, @NWS_WCATWC.

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