B.C. emergency alert: Province tests notifications to cellphones ahead of expansion

British Columbia tested its alert ready system Wednesday afternoon, ahead of an expansion that will include warnings about wildfires and floods.

The test alert was sent out shortly before 2 p.m., and was broadcast on radio and TV as well as being sent to cellphones.

As has been the case during previous tests, not all cellphone users received the alert.

The messages read, "TEST TEST TEST – No action is required. This is a TEST of the British Columbia Emergency Alerting System, issued by Emergency Management BC. If this had been an actual emergency, this message would include instructions to help keep you and your community safe. For further information visit https://www.emergencyinfobc.gov.bc.ca. This TEST is for all of BC. No action is required."

As of Wednesday, the notifications will include imminent threats from floods, and wildfire alerts will soon be added, something the provincial government has been under pressure to do for months now.

“Previously we had been prepared to deploy the systems for tsunami warnings, civil emergencies, and amber alerts, but now we're online for flood dangers and local governments have been contacted and informed on how to request an alert,” said Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s public safety minister and solicitor general, at a news conference Tuesday.

“One of the important things to realize about the alert rating system is that it is a tool. It is not a silver bullet. It is part of a number of tools that we will have to be able to tell people of events that are happening. In the case of the alert ready system, it's very much intended to warn of imminent threat or imminent danger,” said Farnworth.

The alerts for imminent wildfire threats won't be in place until June.

All of the alerts will be highly localized, but that doesn't mean locals will be flooded with notifications, as they’re intended to be for imminent threats only.

For example, last fall, the Abbotsford decided not to use an alert when the Sumas Prairie flooded.

The province faced intense scrutiny for not having the system ready last year when hundreds died due to extreme temperatures.

“We have no idea why the government has taken so long to implement it for fires and floods. And secondly it's a bit of a head scratcher as to why the government didn't announce they're going to use the alert ready system for other types of extreme weather like that heat dome we had last year,” said Todd Stone, the official Opposition leader.

The emergency preparedness minister says protocol for dealing with extreme heat is now being developed alongside the Health Ministry.

“Six hundred British Columbians lost their lives and many of those lives likely could have been saved if a better system informing the public which is exactly what alert ready is intended to help with if a system like that had been in place. So what's the holdup?” questioned Stone.

Officials are currently tracking a number of current weather conditions, which may warrant alerts.

The snowpack is 114 per cent above average, so Environment Canada is watching for prolonged periods of heat and heavy precipitation as that is the most concerning flooding scenario.

Fire conditions are typical, but parts of the province are drier than usual.

With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Bhinder Sajan and Alyse Kotyk