Three displays of the Cherp app

New Disaster preparedness app coming to Vancouver Island

A new disaster preparedness app is about to be deployed in seven Vancouver Island communities.

Pilot projects will be launched in the Village of Tahsis, District of Tofino, City of Parksville, Town of Qualicum Beach and City of Nanaimo next month.

Preparations are underway to bring the project onstream in the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District.

Screenshot of Dr Ryan Reynolds taken during interview

Dr. Ryan Reynolds and team of UBC researchers created the Canadian Hazards Emergency Response and Preparedness Mobile App (CHERP) to help communities create preparedness, communication, evacuation and on-the-day emergency response plans for local hazards and potential disasters.

“The initial version that I built as part of my PHD work was pretty slim compared to what we have today,” said Reynolds.

A thorough list of details makes it possible to individualize plans for every household. For example:  Do you have mobility issues? Or medical issues? If you live in an apartment, what floor are you on? Is someone in your household menstruating? Or incontinent? Do you have pets? What is your address?

(When there is a flood or tsunami, the approaches to some houses outside the inundation area may still be affected and the occupants cut off.)

Reynolds traces the origins of the CHERP App back to his study of how 450 Port Alberni residents responded to the tsunami warning triggered by the Alaska earthquake of Jan. 23, 2018.

While the vast majority of residents evacuated the area within an hour of the alarm being sounded, there was some confusion. A number of people didn’t know if they were in the inundation zone. There were traffic jams as vehicles sought to reach higher ground. The reception centre was not ready to receive evacuees for almost an hour.

Reynolds concluded that more detailed information was needed in the community’s emergency planning. 

“The Strathcona Regional District was one of the first groups to reach out for us, so we’ve done a pilot for the village of Tahsis,” he explained. 

This came about through Shaun Koopman, the SRD’s Protective Services Coordinator, who emailed, “Deployment lies on the funding and capacity provided to UBC as they are the project managers, however the same way I connected UBCM with Tahsis to be part of the development stage I would happily assist UBC with rolling out this project in other communities. The more local-specific risk information we can provide to our residents the safer they will be.”

While everything from small to large communities are in the program so far, Reynolds says he has yet to work with an island. The Capital Regional District has expressed an interest in this for the next phase of the program.

“It is a very different look to evacuate the city of Nanaimo than, for example, Quadra Island – where you have either local boats or personal boats to use, or you have to deal with the ferry,” he said. “We can’t make ferries go faster, that is up to other groups, but we can at least help people to be prepared to be on those ferries a little more quickly.”

Getting off Cortes Island – Photo by Roy L Hales

Q/ Let’s suppose that either Cortes or Quadra Island wanted to go forward with this program, what would be the cost? 

Reynolds said the program does not charge communities for the app, but they would need to provide the necessary information. (This includes any associated costs, like collecting data.)

“Assuming that we are able to show this is working and is actually useful to residents, I think we will be able to start looking at alternative edge communities,” said Reynolds. “Bringing them in so they are no longer edge, making them equal citizens within our app.” 

Top photo credit: three views of what CHERP displays on a cell phone. Note the symbols used to track specific household details in the image on the right – Images courtesy Dr Ryan Reynolds

This program was originally published on October 28th and the segment about SRD Protective Services Co-ordinator Shaun Koopman added on October 30th.

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