Researchers at UBC say although a tsunami didn’t happen, evacuation efforts in Port Alberni last year can be used to improve coastal community emergency response plans.
Vancouver Island was subject to a tsunami warning Jan. 23, 2018, which was triggered by a massive earthquake off the Alaska coast.
Ryan Reynolds and Alexa Tanner of UBC conducted door-to-door and online surveys with residents and interviewed officials with the city of Port Alberni and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District.
They found 93 per cent of households located with the inundation zone had successfully gotten out of the area by the time the evacuation alert ended an hour later.
They say the six tsunami warning towers in the Alberni Valley inundation zone appeared to have done a good job, and most households sought shelter with friends and family, and only a few travelled to the official reception centre.
But Reynolds and Tanner found as many people got in their cars to seek higher ground, it caused traffic congestion and the reception centre was not ready for evacuees until nearly an hour after the warning began.
They also found 10 per cent of survey participants were unsure if their homes were within the inundation zone, and eight per cent were mistaken about their home’s location.
Online communications issues were raised, as many people reported searching for information on the city’s online channels to validate the warning, but the researchers said, “these channels were largely silent.”
However, 89 per cent of participants said their trust with public officials were not significantly impacted despite no tsunami happened, and 86 per cent believed the decision to evacuate was the right one.
The report recommends communities aim to make risk-related communications an integral part of emergency planning and public risk maps should clearly show which areas are at risk.
Reynolds says city and district officials have already made improvements to emergency response plans.