False information spread fast the night of the Stanley Cup riot. Rumours about street, bridge, and train-station closings only added to the chaos, as downtown Vancouver was besieged by violence and looting.
In their riot review, John Furlong and Douglas Keefe said there was no reliable place to go for accurate information that night. They urged local officials to find a way to disseminate such information in times of crisis.
One way of doing this, the co-authors wrote, would be by using cell broadcast technology. It would allow messages to be sent to all mobile phones connected to specific cell towers. While the United States recently introduced such a system, it remains years away in Canada.
So now that the hometown Canucks have begun another quest for the Stanley Cup, if trouble does again break out on Vancouver streets emergency officials say they’ll turn to Twitter to try to ensure public safety.
“The important thing that the riot review referred to was that there was inaccurate information [on June 15]” said David Guscott, chief executive officer of E-Comm, the emergency communications centre for southwest B.C.
“When things start to get busy, we have plans here to have staff who will be handling the Twitter piece.”
Mr. Guscott said every tweet sent out by E-Comm, Vancouver police, the city and TransLink will be verified information. He said the parties will work together at E-Comm and noted they have more than 60,000 Twitter followers combined.
The city announced last month that Stanley Cup playoff celebrations would be decentralized, and only take effect if the team reaches the third round of the playoffs. Mr. Guscott said E-Comm plans to follow a similar timeframe.
Mr. Guscott said it could be years before cell broadcast technology is utilized in this country, as it would require federal legislation. He said several factors must be taken into account, such as who will be authorized to send messages, plus costs.
He said such a system could be used in B.C. for far more than riots and pointed to wildfires, floods, and earthquakes.
“The earthquake in Virginia [last August]was felt in Ontario and Quebec and it quickly overwhelmed the website for Natural Resources Canada. People who wanted to find out ‘What was that thing I felt?’ couldn’t go online. If we had a system which could get a message out, we would in fact be better off.”