Canada’s emergency alert system is not working well enough when disaster strikes, the minister of Emergency Preparedness said Friday.
Speaking to reporters while at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Bali, Indonesia, Bill Blair conceded that information alerts sent out ahead of a sudden, severe storm that hit southern Ontario and Quebec weren’t as helpful as they could have been.
He didn’t mince words when asked if the early warning system ahead of the storm worked as well as it could have.
“The very simple and straightforward answer is no. I think there needs to be improvements,” Blair said.
He said the alerts need to be sent out earlier, have more and better information about what recipients should do and be more consistent when it comes to who gets them.
Residents have criticized system
The storm and its aftermath killed 11 people in Ontario, and many in the Ottawa area are still without power.
Some residents have criticized the alert system, saying they didn’t receive a warning when they felt they should have. Alerts were sent to cell phones and were also broadcast on TV and radio in some areas. It was the first broadcast intrusive alert for an extreme thunderstorm warning.
Blair acknowledged the criticism, calling the early warning system “inconsistently utilized.”
He said one of the most important things he learned at the conference is that there’s data to suggest a strong early warning system for natural disasters can reduce casualties and damage by 30 per cent on average.
He said the federal government will be working with the provinces and territories and Environment Canada to make changes to the system.
“It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” he said.
“Clearly, I think the tragic loss of life, and the damage that occurred in Ontario and Quebec over the past several days, demonstrates that there is still more work to do, and we’re committed to doing that work.”