Port AlberniTsunami Evacuation Offers Valuable Lessons and Next Steps

Port AlberniTsunami Evacuation Offers Valuable Lessons and Next Steps

PORT ALBERNI, British Columbia, Canada – The University of British Columbia’s (UBC) School of Community and Regional Planning has released their final findings on the public and official perceptions of the January 2018 tsunami warning evacuation in the Alberni Valley.

The City of Port Alberni and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District (ACRD) have been working with Dr. Ryan Reynolds, Post Doctoral Research Fellow with the School of Community and Regional Planning, to gain a better understanding of people’s experiences during the January 23rd event.

In spring 2018 Dr. Reynolds and his team surveyed more than 450 residents in Port Alberni through both door-to-door and online surveys and interviewed 11 emergency planning and management officials with the City of Port Alberni and Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District.

According to the report, What’s That Sound?, 93 per cent of households located within the inundation zone had successfully left the area by the time the evacuation alert ended. Most of those that evacuated sought refuge in the homes of friends or family members living in the community or nearby communities, while others gathered in the parking lots of large businesses or relocated to higher elevations.

One of the keys findings from the report indicates that 10 per cent of participants were unsure if their homes were located within the inundation zone, and another eight per cent were mistaken in their beliefs about their home’s location in relation to the inundation zone, indicating that additional education on the matter is required. Concerns around a lack of online communication were also noted.

“The evacuation our city experienced on January 23rd was a stark reminder that we are vulnerable to natural disasters like tsunamis, but it also presented us with a unique opportunity to closely examine our practices, so we may identify our issues and strengthen our weaknesses,” said Port Alberni Mayor, Sharie Minions. “Since the evacuation, I have heard many heartwarming stories about neighbours helping neighbours and strangers assisting strangers, but also received feedback on where the City needs to improve. This report provides us with a great roadmap going forward, and I welcome the findings and recommendations in it,” concluded Mayor Minions. 

The City of Port Alberni is committed to building on its emergency response procedures and ensuring the timely dissemination of information to the public.

“The findings in this report give the City clear direction on the steps we need to take to improve our emergency response practices. We are very thankful to Dr. Ryan Reynolds, his associate Alexa Tanner and UBC’s School of Community and Regional Planning for working with the community of Port Alberni to understand the public's perception of the January 2018 tsunami warning and evacuation. Their research will make a difference in our community as we strive to build upon our current emergency response plans,” said Tim Pley, City of Port Alberni CAO.

Steps the City has taken since the event include:

  • improving the internal emergency call out process to ensure staff respond promptly;
  • posting advisories and educating community members on the monthly tsunami warning system tests;
  • providing tips and resources about household preparedness on social media platforms;
  • launching a Let’s Connect PA project tile where individuals can find information on emergency preparedness (www.letsconnectpa.ca/are-you-ready); and
  • hosting information kiosks around town during Emergency Preparedness Week.

The City is also supporting the ACRD, who leads emergency planning in the Alberni Valley, in the implementation of Connect Rocket Community, a mass electronic notification system that sends text and voice notifications to residents and visitors on-demand. More information on the system launch will be announced in the coming months.

For a copy of the final report, click here.

For More Information

Tim Pley, CAO

City of Port Alberni

(250) 720-2824



Ryan Reynolds, PhD

School of Community and Regional Planning

University of British Columbia

(604) 396-2979