British Columbia

Real-life tsunami threat in Port Alberni, B.C., prompts evacuation updates

Researchers say a tsunami alert in British Columbia that rang out in the dead of night 14 months ago serves as a preparation blueprint for coastal communities that face the ever-present threat of tidal waves.

UBC study looked at public, official response to January 2018 tsunami response

Port Alberni lies at the end of the 40 kilometre long Alberni Inlet, which makes the city especially vulnerable to tsunamis that strike the west coast of British Columbia. (Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce)

Researchers say a tsunami alert in British Columbia that rang out in the dead of night 14 months ago serves as a preparation blueprint for coastal communities that face the ever-present threat of tidal waves.

Ryan Reynolds, a post doctoral risk modelling expert at the University of British Columbia, says the tsunami threat in Port Alberni saw more than 90 per cent of households in warning zones flee for higher ground, but there were glitches before the alert was lifted at 4:30 a.m.

He says in a report released today that some people didn't understand why community sirens were blaring and others were looking for confirmation of the alert on social media, but the community's emergency response system did not immediately inform residents of the potential danger.

A magnitude 7.9 earthquake off the coast of Alaska prompted the tsunami alert along much of Canada's West Coast, including Port Alberni, which was hit by a tsunami in March 1964 following a 9.2 earthquake off Alaska.

Reynolds says his research involved interviews with more than 400 local residents and numerous city officials, including an interview with a family that had just moved to the community and were roused by neighbours who urged them to flee.

He says the research found more than 60 per cent of residents have updated their tsunami evacuation plans since the alert, and community and regional officials have better co-ordinated social media services and response tactics.

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