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Patchwork of mobile emergency alerts causing confusion as B.C. wildfires rage

Click to play video: 'Patchwork of mobile emergency alerts causes confusion' Patchwork of mobile emergency alerts causes confusion
WATCH: There are many ways you could find out about a fire evacuation including getting a knock on the door from police or checking government websites or social media. However, when it comes to getting an alert on your phone the system is still a patchwork. Different jurisdictions in B.C. are using different programs and in the midst of a harrowing fire season, that's causing confusion and raising questions about whether the province should step in – Aug 11, 2021

There are many ways you could find out about a fire evacuation including getting a knock on the door from police or checking government websites or social media.

However, when it comes to getting an alert on your phone the system is still a patchwork.

Different jurisdictions in B.C. are using different programs and in the midst of a harrowing fire season, that’s causing confusion and raising questions about whether the province should step in.

Some jurisdictions have adopted different emergency alert apps.

The Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD) is using an app called Alertable while the neighbouring Thompson-Nicola Regional District uses a system called Voyent Alert.

Other jurisdictions, like the City of Vernon, suggest residents sign up for email alerts.

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The multiple different systems are leading to confusion.

“We had a lot of feedback like why aren’t the alerts for Armstrong on there, why aren’t the alerts for Vernon on there,” said Tracy Hughes, the information officer for the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, about the region’s app.

“The app is only for the CSRD area. We have purchased it for the CSRD citizens. The other local governments may or may not have purchased it so it doesn’t function for those areas.”

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B.C. wildfire worries climb as temperatures spike again – Aug 11, 2021

Given recent experiences with the White Rock Lake Fire, the City of Vernon would welcome a province-wide system.

“It would be helpful because I think one of the things that has been difficult for people is…. this fire it crosses so many different jurisdictional boundaries,” said City of Vernon information officer Christy Poirier.

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“We completely understand that it has been difficult to understand where to find the information that people need.”

The province does use a system called Alert Ready to push notifications to phones but currently only for tsunamis, Amber Alerts, or police incidents.

In a statement, Emergency Management BC said the province is prioritizing expanding that Alert Ready system for other hazards and “explore other areas where additional public alerting procedures will benefit public safety.”

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Falkland residents returning home as crews battle White Rock Lake fire – Aug 10, 2021

However, the province said that developing new alerting protocols “comes with complexity and, as experiences from other provinces and states have shown, it is important that we get this right.”

Emergency Management BC said new alert protocols need to consider things like how the province will manage overlapping jurisdictions, define alert areas to prevent over alerting and provide service to areas that don’t participate locally so that there aren’t gaps in the service.

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The pronvince’s statement did not say what types of alerts they are looking at adding to the Alert Ready mobile notification system or when the system could be upgraded.

Local jurisdictions have seen a need for mobile fire alerts.

Tactical evacuations in the Shuswap in late July even prompted the Columbia Shuswap Regional District to bring in its alert app sooner than planned in the middle of this fire season.

“Literally, the [emergency operations centre] director and I, we got sort of the minimal level of training on this app that we were certified to use it and we looked at each other and we were like, ‘We need this now,'” said Hughes.

The City of Vernon is also looking at either updating an outdated app to make it useful for emergency alerts again or subscribing to one of the commercial options being used by other jurisdictions.

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RDCO confirms structures lost near south flank of White Rock Lake wildfire – Aug 11, 2021

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