This week has been a busy one for emergency preparedness across our Island.
After the storms of the previous week had coastal wave watchers on high alert anad other communities dealing with threats and tragedies brought on by snow and flooding, many of us woke up Tuesday to discover there had been a tsunami warning issued for the west side of Vancouver Island during the night, due to a large earthquake in Alaska.
By the time the majority of Island residents heard about it, the warning had already ended.
Then, on Thursday morning, another emergency alert hit the Comox Valley, with most of its impact falling on youth and families.
A security threat to the well-being of students and staff at Mark Isfeld Secondary led to a shut-down of all three School District 71 high schools, and a “hold and secure” order for all the elementary schools.
In both instances, the immediate reaction from many people was fear. Then anger.
The anger came after people processed the information, and began questioning the information, or lack thereof, available, regarding the situations.
In the case of the tsunami, many people on this side of the island were awakened by text messages from friends and family abroad, who are unfamiliar with the geography of Vancouver Island, and unaware that, geographically, the population centres along the Island’s east coast are at an extremely low risk of ever being hit by a tidal wave.
That fact was of little comfort to many however, who were upset at the lack of any local advance warning system kicking in.
The anger Thursday stemmed from the handling of the security threat alert. The majority of complaints we received were from parents of elementary school-aged students, who were not informed of the elementary school hold and secure order – or who found out about it through social media sources prior to hearing from the school authorities.
The important thing to understand is that the protocol the school district followed is one designed with the children’s safety as the top priority. While the communication with parents was apparently not perfect, the children were safe, and to that degree SD 71 should be applauded for its efforts in what was a first-of-its-kind situation.
Fortunately, there were no injuries or casualties from either incident last week.
But there are some important lessons to be taken away from both situations.
Thanks to the tools at our disposal in this technologically advanced era, the speed at which emergency preparedness groups, government agencies, and the media receive, process and deliver information has improved dramatically.
Understandably, along with these vast improvements come greater expectations. All those involved can learn from any mistakes made in the attempt to circulate the necessary information in the most efficient manner possible, during these two critical incidents.
We must be better.