After residents sleep through tsunami warning, Prince Rupert will review alert system

People in Prince Rupert, B.C. were upset to wake up and find out they'd slept through a tsunami warning, despite the city saying there was little risk to residents.

City officials say Prince Rupert is sheltered from tsunami risk, but residents aren't convinced

The City of Prince Rupert on B.C.'s north coast will review its emergency communications plan following a tsunami warning on Jan. 23. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Many residents of Prince Rupert, B.C., were upset to discover they'd slept through a tsunami warning for British Columbia's coast last night.

"I woke up to see my parents [called] three or four times," said Nadine Hughes. "They live over in Lax Kw'alaams, they have a siren."

B.C.'s Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth has promised a review of the tsunami alert system in the province, which is a patchwork of local responses that range from door-knocking to emergency sirens to text messages.

Prince Rupert used to have a siren system, but it was decommissioned several years ago, said city communications manager Veronika Stewart.

The idea of installing a new one was raised by city council in the wake of the 2012 earthquake on Haida Gwaii, but that has not happened.

The city is in the midst of a study to identify areas under tsunami risk and will reconsider its alert system following last night.

"It gives us an opportunity to review our policies," Stewart said. "I'm sure a siren will come up."

People took to the City of Prince Rupert's Facebook page to question why they didn't receive messages or alerts when a tsunami warning was issued for B.C.'s coast in the early morning of Jan. 23. (City of Prince Rupert Facebook)

Stewart said no evacuation orders or alerts were issued, which is why no one received a knock on the door or phone call. 

She said Prince Rupert is largely "sheltered" from a tsunami by outlying islands, and the larger risk is low-level flooding.

Police and fire officials patrolled the coast to keep people away from the ocean and were prepared to act if the situation became dangerous. 

Hughes, though, said she'd like to see a siren or another early warning system put into place.

"[What] if it's bigger than anyone anticipated?" she asked. 

"We need a warning in place so all people know, who don't have phones. They can't rely on internet."

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

@akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is a radio producer and digital journalist in northern British Columbia, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. Email: andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca | Twitter: @akurjata | Secure PGP: http://www.akurjata.ca