Smart phone apps, wireless technology aim to save more Albertans in event of tornado

If a tornado was to hit the Edmonton region today more people would be alerted to seek shelter much sooner, thanks to technology, says the province's emergency alert co-ordinator.

'It’s about getting the message out as quickly and completely as possible'

Technology allows for earlier warnings to more people in an emergency such as a tornado, says Tim Trytten, emergency alert co-ordinator for the Alberta Emergency Management Agency. (CBC)

If a tornado was to hit the Edmonton region today more people would be alerted to seek shelter much sooner than in the past, says the province's emergency alert co-ordinator.

"It's about getting the message out as quickly and completely as possible," said Tim Trytten with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.
Emergency Alert co-ordinator Tim Trytten discusses how social media and new technology help keep people safe. 0:39

Thirty years ago, the Edmonton tornado killed 27 people, injured 600, left hundreds homeless and caused $300 million in damage when it roared through east side of the city and Strathcona County.

"There just wasn't the ability back then to get the message out within two to three minutes," Trytten said.

The agency issues local weather warnings from Environment Canada through its emergency app to 162,000 smart phone users who have uploaded the app.

Trytten would like to see that number significantly higher.

He said the agency will reach far more people next year when it goes to wireless public alerts.

"You won't have to do anything," he said. "It will come directly to your smart phone if you're in the area under threat."

Alerts for 57 different hazards

Emergency alerts can warn Albertans about more than severe weather.

"We issue for 57 different hazards," Trytten said. "Anything that significantly puts the lives of the public at risk."

While that includes emergency road closures and Amber alerts for missing children, the agency uses the system sparingly to prevent warnings from becoming banal.

Last year, only 17 alerts were issued provincewide, 13 of those for tornadoes.

"We don't issue for frost warning," Trytten said. "We issue for significant events."

The agency still uses more traditional methods to alert the public, such as radio and television alerts.

"It's important to go where the people are," Trytten said.