EDITORIAL: Emergency situations spark anger

This week has been a busy one for emergency preparedness, both Island-wide and locally.

Here in the Comox Valley, most of us woke up Tuesday morning to discover that there had been a tsunami warning issued for the west side of Vancouver Island during the night, due to a large earthquake in Alaska.

By the time the majority of Valley residents heard about it, the warning had already ended.

Then, on Thursday morning, another emergency alert – this one much closer to home, and affecting our youth.

A security threat to the well-being of students and staff at Mark Isfeld Secondary led to a shut-down of all three School District 71 high schools, and a “hold and secure” order for all the elementary schools.

In both instances, the immediate reaction from many people was fear. Then anger.

The anger came after people processed the information, and began questioning the available information, or lack thereof, regarding the situations.

In the case of the tsunami, many people on this side of the island were awakened by text messages from friends and family abroad, who are unfamiliar with the geography of Vancouver Island, and unaware that, geographically, the Comox Valley is at an extremely low risk of ever being hit by such a wave. That fact was of little comfort to many in our community, who were upset at the lack of any local advance warning system kicking in.

The anger Thursday stemmed from the handling of the security threat alert. Most complaints we received were from parents of elementary school-aged students who were not informed of the hold and secure order – or who found out about it through social media sources prior to hearing from school authorities.

The important thing to understand is that the protocol the school district followed is one designed with the children’s safety as the top priority. While the communication with parents was apparently not perfect, the children were safe, and to that degree SD71 should be applauded for its efforts in what was a first-of-its-kind situation.

Fortunately, there were no injuries or casualties from either incident last week.

But there are some important lessons to be taken away from both situations.

Thanks to the tools at our disposal in this technologically advanced era, the speed at which emergency preparedness groups, government agencies and the media receive, process and deliver information has improved dramatically.

Understandably, along with these vast improvements comes greater expectations. All those involved can learn from any mistakes made in the attempt to circulate the necessary information in the most efficient manner possible, during these two critical incidents.

We must be better.

–Terry Farrell

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