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Lack of tsunami advisory warning causes concern in Alberni Valley

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District uses Voyent Alert! app for notifications
A tsunami advisory was issued Jan. 15 around 5 a.m. for coastal B.C. (U.S. Tsunami Warning System image)

A tsunami advisory has come and gone in Port Alberni, but some people are not happy with the communication from local governments during the most recent emergency.

A volcanic eruption on Friday, Jan. 14 near the Tonga Islands led to a tsunami advisory for coastal B.C. The province first issued an alert around 5 a.m. on Jan. 15, for the coast and all of Vancouver Island.

No significant inundation was expected, but low lying coastal areas and beaches were at risk, according to Emergency Management B.C. People in coastal areas were advised to stay away from the shoreline and heed instructions from local authorities.

The advisory remained in place for around eight hours before it was lifted.

Multiple people in Port Alberni and Bamfield posted on social media after the advisory, concerned about the fact that they did not receive a notification from the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District’s Voyent Alert! app until hours after the advisory had been put in place.

Peter Mieras, the owner of Rendezvous Dive Adventures in Rainy Bay, was not happy that he only received a notification from Voyent Alert! an hour after the first waves were supposed to hit the West Coast.

“That’s too late to be of any use,” he said. “If there was anything significant, then it would have affected us directly.”

Rainy Bay is located at the entrance to the Alberni Inlet, near Bamfield, and Mieras said the area had “large waves” coming in all day on Saturday.

“Not large enough to threaten our lives,” he said. “But strong enough and big enough to move the docks in unusual ways.”

Mieras says he has been getting the “test” notifications from Voyent Alert! every month.

“But when it comes down to a real-life situation, it failed us,” he said. “And that’s disconcerting.”

Heather Zenner, the protective services manager for the ACRD, said the ACRD’s Emergency Operations Centre was activated at around 5:15 a.m. on Saturday. This involved ACRD and City of Port Alberni staff monitoring “for as much information as we could find” and posting on various social media channels. The ACRD was also in touch with local First Nations and volunteers in Bamfield.

“Based on the information we received, we weren’t anticipating a large tsunami inundation,” she said. With this information, she said, the Emergency Operations Centre made the decision not to activate Voyent Alert! right away.

Since then, she said, she has received “lots of feedback” from the public who wanted to get that alert much earlier.

“We learn and we improve with each emergency,” she said. “I heard loud and clear from the public that they wanted to receive information right away and they wanted to receive it in lots of ways.”

Some people did not receive an alert at all. In this case, Zenner said people should check their phone settings to ensure that notifications are turned on. Anyone who needs help registering or troubleshooting can call the ACRD at 250-720-2700 for support.

“Please call us and we’d be happy to help people set it up,” Zenner said.

Although there was no damage reported this time around, Zenner said the tsunami advisory is a reminder for people to think about personal emergency preparedness. Residents should make sure they have a grab-and-go bag ready to go in case quick evacuation is required.

“The first thing to do is to head to higher ground,” said Zenner.

After this, people can monitor via the radio or social media to find out where reception centres will be set up.

The Alberni Valley does not currently have an official evacuation route, but this is in the works. The ACRD undertook public engagement on an evacuation route last fall, and a draft is expected to be announced in the coming months.

Zenner said the advisory on Saturday led to 600 more people signing up for Voyent Alert! The app now has more than 3,000 subscribers located in the Alberni Valley and Bamfield.

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Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
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