Emergency alert system not good enough, says Bill Blair

Canada’s emergency alert system does not work well enough in the event of a disaster, the Minister of Emergency Preparedness said on Friday.

Speaking to reporters at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Bali, Indonesia, Bill Blair acknowledged that news alerts sent ahead of a sudden and severe storm that hit southern Ontario and of Quebec were not as useful as they could have been.

He didn’t mince words when asked if the early warning system before the storm was working 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 alerts need to go out earlier, have more and better information about what recipients need to do, and be more consistent about who gets them.

Residents criticized the system

The storm and its aftermath killed 11 people in Ontario, and many people in the Ottawa area are still without power.

Some residents criticized the alert system, saying they had not received 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. This was the first intrusive alert issued for an extreme thunderstorm warning.

Blair acknowledged the criticism, calling the early warning system “inconsistently used”.

He said one of the most important things he learned at the conference is that there is data to suggest that a strong early warning system for natural disasters can reduce casualties and damage from 30% on average.

He said the federal government will work 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 damage that has occurred in Ontario and Quebec over the past few days demonstrates that there is still work to be done, and we are determined to do it.”