RCMP sent out B.C.'s 2nd-ever active shooter alert during the Langley shootings. Why not for the others?

·4 min read
Bullet holes are seen in the windshield and passenger window of an RCMP vehicle at the scene of a shooting, in Langley, B.C., on July 25. Police issued a blaring cellphone alert at about 6:20 a.m. Monday morning to warn the public.  (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Bullet holes are seen in the windshield and passenger window of an RCMP vehicle at the scene of a shooting, in Langley, B.C., on July 25. Police issued a blaring cellphone alert at about 6:20 a.m. Monday morning to warn the public. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Metro Vancouver residents were jolted twice from bed Monday morning after RCMP sent out the second-ever public safety emergency alert in B.C. history.

The direct-to-cellphone emergency alert was sent out just before 6:20 a.m., after multiple shootings in Langley, B.C. left three men dead and one woman injured, to warn the public to stay alert and remain out of the area.

Officials later sent out a second alert at 7:20 a.m. saying the suspect was "no longer a threat" and a third after 3:30 p.m. to inform the public it was safe to resume regular activities in the area.

Alert Ready is a system available across Canada that allows government officials to issue public safety alerts through television and radio broadcasters, as well as compatible wireless devices.

On Monday, police confirmed it was the second time that a public safety alert had been used in B.C. during an active shooter scenario since the technology became available three years ago.

The first time the emergency alert system was used in B.C. was during a shooting in Vanderhoof, B.C., about 99.4 kilometres east of Prince George, in November 2021.

Why wasn't it used during other recent shootings?

Whistler, B.C. resident Andrew Evans took to social media after being woken up by the alert Monday morning, wondering why a similar alert wasn't also used Sunday during a shooting in Whistler Village that killed two men.

"Just a bit more official word perhaps would have been a bit nice," Evans said.

Jessica Cheung/CBC
Jessica Cheung/CBC

Police say strict criteria must be followed for an alert to be issued.

RCMP Chief Superintendent Ghalib Bhayani says the system is only used when an active threat poses a risk to the public, it is unpredictable and evolving, and when sufficient information is known about the threat.

"The incident in Whistler was very, very quick. It was a very short period of time, and it was isolated in the sense that it was targeted," he said.

Nearly a month ago, six police officers were injured and two suspects died in an armed robbery at a bank in Saanich, B.C.

According to Saanich police, an alert was not sent out because the incident also didn't meet the criteria.

The province has been criticised in the past for its lack of use of the system, especially in emergency situations like 2021's heat wave and flooding disaster.

Issues with the alert

The Langley alert was widely received throughout the Lower Mainland and Metro Vancouver, but some as far as Vancouver Island reported receiving the second alert but not the first, causing some confusion over where the shooting was located.

"It didn't identify the location, it didn't identify any sort of quick details about what was happening. So that was the confusing part," said Victoria resident, Holly Robertson.

Martin Belanger, director of Alert Ready, told CBC some people might not have received an alert at all because you need to be connected to an LTE or 5G network that provides high-speed connection, in order for it to come through.

"When you are connected to 3G, you may not receive an emergency alert on your device," he said.

CBC
CBC

Belanger says that if someone is in an area with poor connection, their phone might switch to a 3G network. Some older phones are also not able to access LTE networks.

Compared to other provinces like Saskatchewan, which has used the alert system 209 times in 2022 alone — for incidents involving weather, civil emergencies, and one Amber Alert — B.C. has only used the system a total of three times. In addition to the Vanderhoof and Langley shootings, the system was used to send out an Amber Alert in March.

Belanger said when and how the program is used differs from province to province.

"It really varies per jurisdiction based on the situation that they may have to deal with and based on their own policies on the use of the system," he said.

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said there would be a formal review to investigate the use of the emergency alert system in Langley.

"[The RCMP] will review how things were done and the way they were done. But the bottom line is … They made decisions based on the information that they had," said Farnworth during a Monday news conference.

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