One year ago today, phones were chiming across Vancouver Island with tsunami warning alerts in effect for coastal areas of British Columbia.
The alerts came after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Alaska, leading the National Tsunami Warning Center to issue warnings for coastal B.C., stretching from Washington State up to Attu, Alaska.
In the early hours of the morning, emergency crews began knocking on doors in low-lying areas of Greater Victoria including the Esquimalt Lagoon and the lower portion of the Royal Roads University campus.
All emergency centres but one were activated and Ocean Boulevard was briefly closed to vehicle traffic. Dozens of people drove up Mount Tolmie seeking higher ground.
The warning ended by 5:30 a.m., when the B.C. government issued a statement.
“A tsunami warning on the coast of B.C. has now been cancelled. Overnight, several communities along the coast activated their emergency plans and evacuated those at risk,” said Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety.
“Although the tsunami warning was eventually suspended, this event demonstrates that coast warning systems do work.”
But not all residents woke up or even received alerts. A survey of the 13 municipalities in the Capitol Regional District showed only six municipalities notified the public.
So what has changed since?
In an emailed statement, Emergency Management BC said the event was a great test for the province, and the response was enacted was “effective and timely.”
“The province has validated that it needs to work with its partners to continue educating the public on tsunami preparedness,” it stated. “Since the warning the province continues to make improvements to be better prepared for the next tsunami event including updating emergency response procedures, undertaking more training for staff so that they are better prepared to respond to a tsunami, and supporting communities wherever possible with tsunami preparedness efforts.”
In November, the CRD partnered with West Shore municipalities to start testing emergency alerts in addition to provincial and federal alert systems already in place.