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B.C. changes how tsunami alerts issued following Haida Gwaii quake

Six-year-old Joseph Kim takes cover under his desk during an earthquake drill at Hollyburn Elementary School in West Vancouver, B.C., on Jan. 26, 2011.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The powerful earthquake that rocked British Columbia's coast two weeks ago has shaken up the way the provincial government issues its tsunami alerts.

Following the Oct. 27 magnitude-7.7 earthquake that rocked Haida Gwaii and B.C.'s northern coast, the provincial government came under fire for taking too long to notify people about a possible tsunami.

Some municipal politicians and first responders, such as police and fire officials, complained they had to wait as long as an hour to receive the warning.

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The B.C. Ministry of Justice announced Monday that under its new system it will forward alerts it receives from the U.S.-based West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre to all local authorities, first responders and the media.

After the emails are sent, the Crown agency will post information on Twitter and other social media sites.

Information will also be available on Emergency Management BC's blog for people with smartphones, and the government is developing an interactive map of tsunami warning zones, so people can determine if they are at risk.

"Frankly, I'd rather they (British Columbians) were inundated with information than sat waiting for something to arrive," said Minister of Justice and Attorney General Shirley Bond. "So we're going to look at as many ways as possible of getting that information out."

In fact, within three minutes of receiving an alert about an earthquake off Alaska's coast Monday, the provincial government's social-media team was activated and was sharing the information online, said Ms. Bond.

That quake was measured at about a magnitude 6.5 in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska and there was no threat of a tsunami.

Ms. Bond said the provincial government is adding the email-forwarding service, partly because the U.S. tsunami-warning centre is changing how it delivers its service and will no longer provide email alerts to the "broad list" of clients it currently serves.

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Ms. Bond said the provincial government will continue to receive those alerts, and she wanted to make sure that the government had a process in place to deliver those alerts until it knows what the new U.S. service looks like.

During the next 30 days, the provincial government will also test its new email notification system, she said.

The Oct. 27 earthquake struck a few minutes after 8 p.m., but the first B.C. government media bulletin warning of a tsunami wasn't issued until about 9:05.

Ms. Bond announced the following day her ministry would review what happened.

Chris Duffy, executive director of operations with Emergency Management BC, also said at the end of October his office sent out initial details about the tsunami warning 12 minutes after the quake in an email that went to various communities and agencies.

Meantime, Ms. Bond said her ministry's review is continuing. She said ministry staff have asked for feedback from community leaders and she expects to receive that feedback within the next month.

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"We're going to continue to see the process evolve and we're going to implement as we find new ways of doing things. We're not going to wait for ... the end of this process.

"I think it's ongoing and it certainly has been expedited and has become a priority project."

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