For the past month, text message tsunami warnings from the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center have transformed from clear, concise vital information to incomprehensible computer code with a link to a useless URL–at least on my Bell Android Samsung phone.
My phone beeped this morning with the tone that let me know that this was a possible tsunami warning.
This is what appeared on my phone.
This is what appeared on my Tweetdeck feed.
The SMS text message is completely useless. Not only is there no vital information, it directs you to tinyurl.co, which (if the URL is not truncated) usually reaches the homepage for the Tiny URL website. On other times clicking on a link goes to a spam like, buy this domain site, tinyurl.co which is even worse.
I began subscribing to the WCATWC warning messages on my phone the day after the October 27, 2012 earthquake on Haida Gwaii.
From October until mid-February, the messages on Twitter and on my phone were identical. Then in February everything changed, perhaps because NOAA, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, changed the transmission servers. Although it is not clear why simply changing a the outgoing server would have any affect on a message that the US and Canadian federal governments and the state and provincial governments along the west coast consider vital public information.
Here are the latest messages as they appeared on my phone.
Here is how the same warnings appeared on Tweetdeck.
According to my phone’s text message log, the last clear message about a possible tsunami was received on February 14 from the server firstname.lastname@example.org. All the gobbledygook messages since then have come from email@example.com.
Here is how the tsunami warnings appeared on my phone prior to the server change on Feb. 14.
I have always followed earthquake and tsunami warnings (as well as other breaking news stories) using Tweetdeck for both my desktop and my phone.
For the past month, as soon as I’ve heard the tsunami alert on my phone, I have gone straight to Tweetdeck, ignoring the bad text message.
Twitter which bought Tweetdeck last year, now wants to force users to their own mobile apps and to use the Chrome version on the desktop.
Frankly, the Twitter app for the Android was and is awful which is why I kept using Tweetdeck and will do so until Tweetdeck is killed by Twitter. I do use the Twitter app for my iPad and I don’t like it either. Unlike Tweetdeck, neither app has the flexibility that I require as a journalist. With Tweetdeck, even on a phone, you can call up specific topics quickly and switch back and forth.
discontinuing our app support is a reflection of where our TweetDeck power-users are going. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a steady trend towards people using TweetDeck on their computers and Twitter on their mobile devices.
I have to wonder what kind of power users Twitter is referring to. Many journalists (and activists and politicians) reacted to the decision with horror.
There is speculation that Twitter, which has to make money, of course, wants to drive users to its own apps so it can load advertising on the feed. That’s a legitimate business decision.
For years, Tweetdeck has been the go to software for tracking emergencies and breaking news. One has to wonder if any of the California-based employees of Twitter got the same garbled text message that I got and where they went to get better information.
The real test of Twitter’s programs will not how much they are used for gossip, but how they work in an emergency or a disaster.
EmergencyInfoBC Please be advised that @EmergencyInfoBC is the only authorized emergency alert feed for Gov’t of BC.
Tweet Thu 8 Nov 11 48
The British Columbia Solicitor General’s department is asking northwest municipalities to “clarify the initial response actions” to the October 27 2012, magnitude 7.7 earthquake off Haida Gwaii and the resulting tsunami warning.
A covering letter to municipalities from Lori Wannamaker BC Deputy Solicitor General says the province is reviewing the response to the earthquake and tsunami and is “seeking input from affected community leaders.” The package includes a letter sent to Emergency Program Coordinators across British Columbia, adding: “Input will be sought in an endeavour to hear from those directly impacted as a measure of enhancing our operations and response,” adding. “Events like present all levels of government with a learning opportunity.”
In the main letter to the municipalities outlining emergency procedures, the department also offers a time line of its response to the incident.
Clarify the initial response actions
The package sent to municipalities by Rebecca Derlinger, Assistant Deputy Minister /Fire and Emergency Management Coordinator, opens by saying: “The earthquake/tsunami event on October 27, 2012 demonstrated the high level of emergency preparedness that has been undertaken by local governments in BC. Elected officials and emergency managers in all impacted communities deserve praise for a timely and effective response that was undertaken, including evacuations.”
But in the next paragraph the letter goes on to say: “Prior to the completion of the provincial debrief process, we would like to clarify the initial response actions of local government emergency management personnel including how information should be managed after an earthquake that impacts BC.”
The letter also says that “Local governments must complete a hazard risk and vulnerability analysis for their communities according to the Emergency Program Act and regulations, keeping in mind that all parts of British Columbia have a risk of earthquake impacts. Coastal communities have the added risk of tsunami.”
The letter then outlines three scenarios for various communities
Significant earthquake is felt in a community located in an area with tsunami risk
Earthquake is not felt, however, a community is located in an area with tsunami risk (teletsunami)
Earthquake is felt in a community that is not located in area that has tsunami risk
In all three scenarios it says Emergency Management BC “will provide the general public with ongoing situational awareness through:
Social media such as Twitter
Mainstream media (press conferences and releases)
For areas such as Kitimat, which is in a possible tsunami zone, the letter advises “Local governments should undertake the following emergency response activities immediately following a significant earthquake (do not wait for official notification)
Activate their local emergency response plans and if deemed necessary
Active local first responders
Undertake public alerting and initiate evacuations of low lying areas
Open an emergency operations centre in a safe location
Report to EMBC
Ensure ongoing public messaging to their citizens
Gather information to develop situational awareness
For areas that don’t feel the earthquake, the province recommends
Local governments should undertake…emergency response activities immediately following the receipt of a West Coast Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre (or WCATTWC) and/or EMBC notification of a potential tsunami event. It then calls on local emergency officials to follow the same procedure outlined above “if a notification indicates an increased risk of a tsunami (warning or advisory only)
As you can see from the Twitter profile, Emergency Info BC works during normal office hours, Monday to Friday unless there is a declared emergency
The warnings October 27
In the letter the province outlines a time line of how the emergency system worked on October 27.
It says the provincial Tsunami Notification plan was activated at 8:10 pm. October 27, approximately four minutes after the earthquake.
In a provincial acronym soup it then says
The EMBC (Emergency Management BC) Emergency Coordination Centre initiated an internal resource request to activate the PECC (Provincial Emergency Coordination Centre) and the PREOCs (Provincial Regional Operations Centres).
EMBC and Temporary Emergency Assignment Management System (TEAMS) staff were in attendance at PECC and PREOCs by 8:33 pm.
“Based on the initial bulletin from WCATTWC, social media staff sent out a message via Twitter” at 8:48 pm At that time EMBC regional offices began contacting communities with potential tsunami risk by telephone. “Subject matter experts from Natural Resources Canada and Canadian Hydrographic Service were contacted by PECC at 8:30 pm and at 9 pm to review the information received from WCATWC.
“Based on these discussions, the PENS (Provincial Emergency Notification) was initiated at 9:05 while efforts to make contact with those communities under tsunami warning continued.
At 10:45 pm a media conference call was held by the Minister of Justice.
The letter continues to say that conference calls were held with EMBC, US state emergency management offices, and the West Coast Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre hourly until the final cancellation of the west coast warning by WCATWC at 2:47 am Sunday morning and by the province at 3:03 am
It concludes “Staff responsible for social media were actively engaged in informing the public.”
Denlinger’s letter then goes on to note that the provincial debrief will include “a discussion on the information flow from the province to emergency management stakeholders and the public (for example the use of social media as a communications tool for public awareness of the event)… This information….will assist in the creation of a provincial after action report and in the enhancement of subsequent provincial earthquake and tsunami response plans.”
At 6:06 I received an automatic text message from the West Coast Alaska Tsunami Warning Centre
Tsunami Info Stmt: M6.3 085Mi SW Port Alice, British Columbia 1802PST Nov 7: Tsunami NOT expected #WCATWC
At 6:07 I received an automatic tweet from Canadaquakes : @CANADAquakes: Automatic detection of seismic event: magnitude 4.4 – 7 Nov 18:01 PST – PORT HARDY, BC region
At 6:15, I received the WCATWC message on Twitter that I had received 9 minutes earlier via text
Tsunami Info Stmt: M6.3 085Mi SW Port Alice, British Columbia 1802PST Nov 7: Tsunami NOT expected #WCATWC
@EmergencyInfoBC retweets the WCATWC message
At 6:27 Canada quakes updated their tweet with corrected information: @CANADAquakes: EARTHQUAKE Mag=6.3 on 07 Nov at 18:01 PST. Details : http://t.co/OL9RTPKC 101 km SSW of Port Alice, BC
@EmergencyInfoBC retweets the CANADAquakes message
Analysis The province didn’t get it
Read between the lines of the Solicitor General’s letter and a couple of things stand out. While at first the officials say things went fine according to procedures in the book, events appear to show that in practice, the system didn’t work as well as expected on the night of October 27.
First the province, reminds municipalities of that they “must complete a hazard risk and vulnerability analysis for the communities.”
Second, while EM BC social media staff were, according to the letter, “were actively engaged in informing the public,” there was actually scant evidence of that during the crucial first 90 minutes after the earthquake on Haida Gwaii. While the emergency coordination officials and bureaucrats apparently were well informed about what was happening, the public was not. As I pointed out in an earlier post, differences between the US and Canadian warning systems contributed to the confusion. As well there was a problem on both Twitter and Facebook of rumour, misleading and false information being posted on social media during that crucial 90 minutes.
The line about the “the use of social media as a communications tool for public awareness of the event” is a clear indication that not all went well with the EM BC Twitter feed the night of the Haida Gwaii earthquake.
While Emergency Info BC is a sort of blog, again you have to know to go there and it is only active during an emergency. There were no posting on the night of the earthquake and tsunami. The last “blog” was during the Johnson’s Landing landslide evacuation in July 2012, and even that doesn’t give much information. Looks like Emergency Info doesn’t understand that a blog entry that says “no danger, nothing much is happening” is just as important as evacuation instructions.
The main website is Emergency Management BC, with a link to the Info site—if there is an emergency—not exactly a prime example of web design for someone in a hurry, whether an official, the media or the public, since it was what the web calls “brochure ware.”
The first indication of whether or not there would be major danger to the BC coast on Oct. 27 was at Langara Island at 9:16 pm. Local officials in northwest BC were monitoring Langara and the relatively low surge indicated–at least at that time– that danger was not as great as feared. Yet it was only seven minutes earlier that EM BC activated the Provincial Notification Program at 9:05, and that was an hour after it was known that the earthquake was 7.7 in magnitude, which had the potential for catastrophic damage. The tweets that I saw about the small surge at Langara, came from Prince Rupert. It is in a situation like the Langara monitoring that the Emergency Info blog would have been relevant.
The need for constant official updates is clear. Earthquakes do not work 8:30 to 4:30, Monday to Friday. The province has to be able to activate emergency notification much faster. If a web journalist whether working for the mainstream media or a responsible individual on a small site can tweet or post in seconds, usually working from a home office or even a smart phone, emergency officials can do the same.
In these days, travel by government officials is often frowned upon. A couple of months from now, when New York and New Jersey have recovered from the Superstorm Sandy and this weeks Nor’easter, a visit from BC emergency officials is in order to see how it is done.
The debate over the role of Kitimat in the Northern Gateway pipeline debate is being infected by ongoing Twitter spam.
Starting late Saturday and continuing Sunday, Twitter messages frequently appear, with many different identities, but few if any followers and with one message “Kitimat torn by risks, rewards.”
The message refers to a headline in the Vancouver Sun, by Gordon Hoekstra, part of his coverage of the first day of Joint Review hearings on the pipeline, Kitimat torn by risks, rewards, but the spam doesn’t include a link to the original Vancouver Sun story.
References to Kitimat are appearing more frequently as interest grows in the story of the Northern Gateway pipeline. While many of the tweets are informed opinion on all sides of the debate with appropriate links, there are also a growing number of tweets by conservatives, mainly in Alberta and Saskatchewan, that clearly show complete ignorance of the issue.
Clarification One key example from this weekend. There have been tweets from people both in Alberta and Saskatchewan claiming there are no forests in Kitimat. They look at a map and see the boundaries of the Great Bear Rainforest and decide that saying that Kitimat is surrounded by forest is a “green lie.”
Northwest Coast Energy News is asking for Twitter for a comment on the spam.