New disaster preparedness app coming for Vancouver Island communities

·2 min read
A new app soon to be available to people living in a handful of communities on Vancouver Island will let people know if their home is located within a tsunami zone. (Yvette Brend/CBC  - image credit)
A new app soon to be available to people living in a handful of communities on Vancouver Island will let people know if their home is located within a tsunami zone. (Yvette Brend/CBC - image credit)

When disaster strikes, minutes can make the difference for people trying to get out of harm's way.

A new app created by researchers at the University of British Columbia aims to reduce time spent scrambling to get organized by helping households create custom emergency response plans.

The Canadian Hazards Emergency Response and Preparedness (CHERP) app is set to launch in November and will be piloted in a handful of Vancouver Island communities including Tahsis, Tofino, Nanaimo, Oak Bay, Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

After downloading the app to a mobile device, users will be able to input details about their home and who lives there, including pets, and the app will help people create detailed, personalized plans to put into action in the case of a flood, earthquake, tsunami or other major incident.

"You name it, we go through that information and adjust those plans in the app on the fly, protecting your privacy, so that that information is customized to your individual household," said Ryan Reynolds, a postdoctoral research fellow in the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning, whose team created CHERP.

Reynolds, speaking to Gregor Craigie, host of CBC's On The Island, said he got the idea after speaking with people in Port Alberni, B.C., following a tsunami warning there in 2018.

He said at least 10 per cent of residents in that community were unsure if they lived in the tsunami zone and another eight per cent thought they did when they were actually not at risk.

Reynolds said it was concerning to him to see such confusion.

Now, people who use CHERP will be able to see if their house is in fact within a tsunami zone. This, he said, is critical because if people who are not at risk evacuate it can cause traffic congestion that could trap people who do need to flee.

The more information you input into the app, the more detailed the plans can be. Considerations can include whether someone menstruates, has anxiety, accessibility issues, is part of the LGBTQ+ community, is hard of hearing, or is a refugee or in Canada on a temporary visa.

Reynolds said the app is in its final development stages and his team has partnered with local governments and regional districts who, he says, will help get the word out in the coming weeks when the app will be publicly available.

He suggests people living in the above mentioned communities look to local government social media platforms for announcements on when they can download CHERP.

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