British Columbia

New UBC study measures community response to tsunami threats

Following a tsunami false alarm in Port Albeni, B.C., earlier this year, UBC students are launching a new study into the communities disaster response.

Study follows tsunami false alarm in Port Alberni, B.C., earlier this year

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)

To better understand how the community reacts to the threat of a tsunami, University of British Columbia students are set to roam the waterfront streets of Port Alberni, B.C.

The students will be conducting a door-to-door survey to learn how residents reacted to the tsunami warning on Jan. 23.

Port Alberni residents were awakened in the early morning by sirens triggered by a 7.9 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Kodiak, Alaska.

While the tsunami never materialized, city officials have spent the ensuing months assessing the public's response to the warning sirens, in an effort to figure out how it could be done better.

Now, UBC students have taken up the cause.

The goal of the study is to create more resilient coastal communities in British Columbia by finding out how people were alerted to the tsunami threat, how people in a household responded, and residents' overall feelings about the event.

The study's findings will be shared with local emergency managers in the Alberni Valley to help communities identify possible barriers that may impede future evacuations.

"The community was amazing," said Port Alberni Mayor Mike Ruttan, when recalling the events of Jan. 23.

"They got themselves organized, and headed for higher ground."

Ruttan acknowledged that some residents didn't hear the alarm — some even slept through it — and said there is one area of the city near the sawmill where the sirens can't be heard.

"That is a major concern for us and it's something we'll be addressing."

Ruttan said he hopes the study will help streamline the emergency response process, and said he would like to see residents form concrete household strategies to deal with a threat.

With files from All Points West