More discussion needed around emergency preparedness, says Sooke Mayor

Sooke Assistant Fire Chief Matt Barney says things went well in wake of recent tsunami warning

Following the tsunami warning issued Tuesday morning, Sooke mayor Maja Tait believes now is a good time for the community to have a larger conversation about preparedness for emergency situations.

“There’s a lot of concern right now that people don’t know what to do in those types of situations,” said Tait. “I know our fire department has held many open houses regarding emergency situations, but they were fairly poorly attended. So maybe now it’s a good time to talk about preparedness because it’s fresh in everyone’s mind.”

Tait said some residents have complained saying Sooke should have the same emergency sirens that Port Renfrew or Victoria has, and that people should have been better notified.

She agreed that Sooke does need a better way notifying people, but doesn’t know if the tax increase that would come with buying sirens, which can cost up to $500,000 or more, is something residents would be comfortable with.

“Maybe we could look at other notifications that could be more cost effective for the time being,” said Tait. “Because even if we did have the sirens for the incident on Tuesday, they still wouldn’t have gone off.”

Sooke Assistant Fire Chief Matt Barney said the department is happy with the way things went, as they were taking directions from the Navy and making sure they had the right information.

He said if the wave height warning would have gone above what their protocol was, they would have started notifying and evacuating people.

“If we thought it was a direct threat then definitely we would have acted on that. But from the initial information that we got, the wave wasn’t any bigger than some of the waves we get when it’s storming outside,” said Barney.

Barney added that the department was prepared and was patrolling the areas that could have potentially been affected. They also talked to people who were outside in those areas and let them know what was going on.

“I know a lot of people are thinking ‘Well why didn’t you let us know?’, but why would we wake people up at 2 a.m. to tell them there’s nothing happening. We didn’t want to put people in a panic that they didn’t need to be in.”

Tait said she also had people asking where she was during the warnings, but said she was on a need-to-know basis with responders, who were updating her as necessary.

“That’s not my role to be there, I would have been in the responders’ way,” said Tait. “I’m just on stand-by to sign off in the state of emergency, should that happen.”

Tait said it is obvious that Sooke needs more information about emergency situations, and now is the perfect time to talk about it.

Sooke Fire Chief Kenn Mount will be giving a brief regarding the incident at council on Monday, and following that, council plans to discuss ways that residents can be better notified and more prepared for emergencies.

For now, people can sign up for Vic-Alert, which sends out notifications by text, phone and email of major emergencies or disasters that may impact Greater Victoria. The CRD also also has a public alert system for our area, which people can sign up for at crd.bc.ca.

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