Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth was on the defensive in the B.C. legislature Thursday, where he vowed that the government would have its Alert Ready cell phone warning system up and running by the spring of 2022.
Farnworth has been peppered with questions this week, as the province starts to recover from the weekend downpour and flooding that cut the Trans Canada, Coquihalla and Highway 3, as well as both the CP and CN rail lines. Abbotsford has been dealing with a flooded Sumas Prairie, the dike-protected former lake that was last flooded in 1990. Both times the main damage came from the Nooksack River just over the U.S. border in Washington.
The issue of cell phone alerts has come up repeatedly as B.C. has gone through flooding and forest fire evacuations. The latest flooding across much of southern B.C. is the third official state of emergency for 2021, including COVID-19 travel restrictions and fires.
“All other provinces are using the Alert Ready system,” B.C. Liberal MLA Todd Stone said in question period Nov. 18. “They’re using it for tornadoes. They’re using it for wildfires. They’re using it for a range of other natural disasters.”
Farnworth said the provincial emergency text message system has to work with existing local alert systems. It has been tested in the past five years, and used for earthquake and tsunami alerts in the wake of the Fukushima event in Japan in 2011.
“And what I’ve also said in this House is that we will have in place the Alert Ready system, and we’ve committed to doing that for next spring,” Farnworth said. “We also have the ability, and as we work with local communities to ensure that…. If it’s needed in a particular area, as in Abbotsford the other night, we worked with them and had a text ready to hit send and to send it out.”
On Wednesday, Farnworth confirmed that it was Abbotsford’s choice not to use the phone alert message for evacuation from flooding in Sumas Prairie on Tuesday night, when the surge of water from the Nooksack River.
“Emergency Management B.C. was in constant communication with the city of Abbotsford. I was in constant communication with the mayor of Abbotsford,” Farnworth told the legislature Nov. 17. “They asked to be able to use an alert. One was put together in place. We were ready to send it. They then said: ‘No, we don’t need to do it at this point, and we will ask you when to do it’.”