by Marco Ovies, Features Editor

On Saturday, November 6, 2021, a tornado rolled its way through the UBC campus. Winds reached anywhere from 90–110 km/h on campus and there are numerous videos of the wreckage this storm left behind. The tornado left behind damaged vehicles, fallen trees, and downed power lines crews were still fixing Monday morning. If there was ever a good time to use BC’s Alert Ready system, this would have been it. 

BC’s Alert Ready system allows the government to send an emergency message to phones, major television stations, and radio broadcasters to alert the public of life-threatening dangers. 

I didn’t hear about the tornado until Monday night while watching the news. Looking at the footage of the destruction afterwards, I was amazed I hadn’t heard anything sooner. Where were the alerts telling people to stay inside? Despite being given an EF0 rating (the lowest rating for a tornado), it is still quite dangerous to be outside in 90–110 km/h winds with trees being uprooted. 

But this tornado did not warrant an emergency message from Alert Ready. In an interview with City News, meteorologist Bobby Sekhon said the Alert Ready system is “really for the most severe cases [ . . . ] when danger to life is imminent.” However, upon looking at the footage of destroyed vehicles and fallen trees, I would argue the destruction posed danger to human life.

This isn’t the only time the Alert Ready system was not used. Think back to the heat dome BC experienced over the summer, the one that killed nearly 600 people. That would have been an excellent time to send an emergency message warning people about the extreme temperatures and directing people to cool-down centres set up across the Lower Mainland. It was also not used for the Lytton wildfires which left around 4,300 properties under evacuation order. Additionally, more than 1,000 people had to flee their homes and two people died. 

So what’s the hold up on using this emergency broadcast system? Well in the same City News article, Sekhon said, “If every warning is broadcast-intrusive, people might not take it as seriously.” This is a fair point, but the only time I’ve ever received one of these warnings was as a test. We have this software, and if there is a dangerous weather event, we should be using it instead of waiting for a bigger one. What is the point of having this life-saving software if we aren’t planning on ever using it? 

Tornados and fires are both listed as potential alert types on the Alert Ready Website. Yet according to the Alert Count on the website, BC has not sent out a single alert since 2019. Without any other clear criteria listing what would count as “danger to life,” it makes me wonder why BC has not used this service more. 

I think it’s time we reconsider the criteria for when BC uses its Alert Ready system. I would rather be overly cautious and potentially save lives than risk the lives of BC citizens.