British Columbia

Tofino begins more frequent testing of tsunami warning system

The district has begun testing its warning system once a month after a tsunami warning for the entire B.C. coast was issued in January following an earthquake.

Starting Friday at 11 a.m., district will test notifications monthly

A tsunami siren is seen Chesterman Beach on Jan. 24, the morning after a tsunami warning was issued in Tofino after an earthquake off the coast of Alaska. (Melissa Renwick/Canadian Press)

Tofino will be testing its tsunami warning system more often — starting Friday morning — after a scare on the B.C. coast in January.

The district is sending out emergency notifications to nearly 1,000 locals at 11 a.m. PT.

As with previous tests, residents can expect texts, emails and phone messages. 

In the past, the district has tested its warning system twice a year — but it's upping that to monthly after a powerful earthquake off the coast of Alaska prompted a real tsunami warning for the B.C. coast on Jan. 23. 

A van backs down the road as Tofino, B.C. residents and visitors flood out of the community centre after the tsunami warning on Jan. 23. People living along parts of the province's coast evacuated to higher ground when a powerful earthquake struck off Alaska. (Melissa Renwick/Canadian Press)

In Tofino, warning sirens were activated on the two main beaches in town and homes were evacuated, with hundreds of people heading to emergency reception centres at the community hall and an elementary school.

"This is why we train, this is why we do exercises and this is why spend time making emergency plans and then testing them," Mayor Josie Osborne said at the time.

Keith Orchiston, Tofino's emergency program coordinator, said the warning warranted a response.

"That's our follow-up," said Orchiston. "More testing of the systems just to make sure that everybody is getting the notifications that they need."

An evacuation route sign in Port Renfrew, B.C., after tsunami warning sirens went off in many coastal communities on British Columbia's west coast Tuesday morning. Victoria has no such alarms and instead uses a phone messaging system to alert residents of potential disasters. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

He said officials have "done a fair bit of outreach to the public" to let them know the tests are going to be happening more often.

Friday's notifications will happen at the same time as the already-monthly tsunami sirens tests. 

Both will now happen the first Friday of every month at 11 a.m.

The notifications will also remind people to keep their emergency contact information up to date with the district. 

Different places, different systems

From sirens to phone calls, texts or a door knock, each community in B.C. has its own emergency plan in the event of a tsunami — but there wasn't one single message from one single source for last month's warning.

B.C. Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth said the province would be reviewing how information is disseminated to and received by the public after some people missed the alerts entirely.

"There's a whole system of ways of being able to contact people," he said at the time.

  • For more on preparedness in B.C., listen to the CBC podcast Fault Lines

With files from Sarah Towle