Vancouver urges residents to download emergency alert app

The Alertable app provides location-specific warnings, including everything from road closures due to flooding and landslides to incoming extreme weather, major fires and hazardous material spills

Neighbours shuttled stranded residents to safety during flooding in Abbotsford, B.C., on Nov. 15, 2021. The City of Vancouver is urging residents to download an emergency app that warns of such events | Photo: Stefan Labbé

The City of Vancouver is encouraging residents to register for a new application that provides emergency alerts in the event of a disaster. 

The Alertable app provides location-specific warnings, including everything from road closures due to flooding and landslides to incoming extreme weather, major fires and hazardous material spills.

Vancouver’s director of emergency management Daniel Stevens says the app will complement the city’s emergency notifications it sends out through social media, its website, door knocking or the press. 

“Alertable is one of the fastest ways we can reach people. Now, more than ever, we need to be able to deliver important safety information to people in various ways,” said Stevens in a written statement. 

On the morning of Dec. 2, for example, the app provided a Vancouver resident five alerts, warning of rainfall, overland flooding and an ongoing state of emergency across several locations in the Fraser Valley. 

Unlike the Canada-wide Alert Ready system — which allows governments to beam out emergency alerts through text messages, TV and radio transmissions — the Alertable app allows users to customize what information they receive. 

Once the free app is downloaded to a smartphone, tablet, computer or smart speaker, users can choose whether they’d like to mute alerts for road closures or whether they would like to receive notifications in other municipalities if they travel outside of Vancouver. 

This is not the first time a B.C. community has used an app to bolster local emergency preparedness. 

Web and device-based apps have grown increasingly popular as a tool to plan and survive emergencies. In California, a pathbreaking smartphone app was developed to plan escape routes from wildfire. And during Hurricane Harvey, a geolocation app helped first responders rescue at least 25,000 flood victims, while another ensured tuberculosis patients took their medicine on time.

In B.C., seven Vancouver Island communities received access to a disaster app in November to help families design their own emergency plans. 

The Canadian Hazards Emergency Response and Preparedness mobile app (CHERP) allows roughly 150,000 residents of Vancouver Island to identify potential natural hazards threatening their homes. The app will prompt residents to input data on family members, and then create a custom household emergency plan if things go catastrophically wrong.

UBC researcher Ryan Reynolds, who led the creation of the app, said the Vancouver Island communities will act as a testing ground for other towns and cities across B.C. and Canada.  

The Alertable app is currently available in English and French and can be downloaded for both Apple and Android users.