The City and Regional District of Nanaimo have systems in place to notify in case of emergency. Pictured, here a flood warning sign in Harewood. (News Bulletin file)

City, Regional District of Nanaimo ready to alert citizens to emergencies

Cellphone alerts among ways to notify residents

While a recent tsunami warning didn’t affect either the City or Regional District of Nanaimo, both local governments have systems in place to deal with natural disasters.

Cellphone alerts are among the ways both the city and the region notify residents of imminent danger and Karen Lindsay, city emergency program manager, said city systems depend on the situation.

“For example, if you were evacuating a neighbourhood and you had some discretionary time to do it, it could be involving responders going door-to-door. It could be sent out over Twitter and Facebook and played on the radio, for example, to let people know, and advise people, that there’s something going on,” said Lindsay.

If it affects the entire city, Twitter and Facebook, the city’s mass notification system and mainstream media would be used, Lindsay said.

She talked about a new warning system called Alert Ready, a partnership between federal and provincial emergency management programs, Environment and Climate Change Canada and other interests.

“It allows text notifications of emergencies affecting large geographies as well and from my understanding, it also has the ability, even if you have your phone on mute … it would still be able to notify you through text with a sound,” said Lindsay.

She said earthquakes could present a challenge, as they could damage communications infrastructure. The city would utilize social media and call alert, if available, but it also has a direct link into radio stations.

“We can actually start sending public messaging out to the radio stations and they would man with their staff, someone there to receive the communications and get them out over the air … we have a healthy ham radio operators coastal emergency communications, they’re part of our emergency response team. We’ve got ham radio wired in at all four of our reception centres and we also have a radio in our emergency operations centre,” Lindsay said.

The Regional District of Nanaimo emergency system covers the District of Lantzville and its electoral areas and according to Daniel Pearce, RDN director of transporation and emergency services, residents can sign up for notifications on home and mobile phones.

The regional district can change messaging depending on the situation, said Pearce.

“If you got an alert that said, for example, that a natural disaster was occurring, a lot of the time we’d still tell the residents be prepared for a minimum of 72 hours … if we’re dealing with an interface wildfire and you do need to leave your residence, we would have operational personnel, such as firefighters and RCMP knocking on doors and alerting residents,” said Pearce.

In the event residents were displaced, Pearce said the regional district would set up temporary housing. The RDN currently has an emergency support services program through Emergency Management B.C. The regional district co-ordinates to ensure that if emergency housing is needed, people are looked after.

Both Lindsay and Pearce say there have been marked increases in alert sign-ups given last week’s tsunami warning. The RDN saw an increase of 1,964 subscribers between Jan. 22 and 25. The city saw 1,054 sign-ups Jan. 24-25.

The two local governments will co-ordinate if necessary.

“If it was a large-scale emergency, we would look to work closely with the [RDN] because a lot of the population sits on the borders of our community and a lot of those residents will come into the community,” said Lindsay.

A registration link for the City of Nanaimo emergency call alert system can be found here, and a sign-up link for Regional District of Nanaimo emergency notifications can be found here.

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