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Sunday, September 25, 2022
Instant flood warnings now available for Niagara residents

People who live in Niagara-on-the-Lake can now download a free app on their mobile phone to get instant notifications of flood warnings.  

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority is the first organization in Ontario to adopt the app, called Alertable. 

“If we anticipate a flood, current practice has been to email first responders, municipalities, and media, and then rely on media to alert the public,” explained Steve Miller, senior manager of water resources for the NPCA.

“With Alertable, we can send that same message directly to residents, who will get the warning instantaneously. This is a very exciting new technology.”

Warnings will continue to go out through the media, too, he said.

The NPCA had its first opportunity to try out the app on Nov. 27, when there was flooding predicted on Lake Erie because of extremely high winds. The conservation authority used Alertable to “send notification of the magnitude, height of waves, duration of the event, as well as advice for those near the shoreline to drop their storm shutters, use sand bags, and stay away from the shoreline,” said Miller.

The system is geographically based, “so we sent the flood warning to people within half a kilometre of the shoreline. It’s very targeted,” he said.  

The ability to target warnings geographically means users only get notifications of dangers that are relevant to them. The app can be downloaded from GooglePlay or the App Store, and users can select settings for the locations they want to see notifications for.

Alertable has been widely used in Western Canada for many years. It was created by Public Emergency Alerting Services Inc. and was used to warn people of danger during the 2013 Calgary floods. During the 2016 wildfires in Fort McMurray, some 150,000 people used the mobile app to stay informed and safe, according to Jacob Westfall,  chief technology officer for the app’s developer. 

Environment Canada is the “primary issuer of alerts, for extreme weather such as tornadoes, high winds, heavy rain or snow,” said Westfall.

The app has 600,000 users so far, concentrated mainly in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and NWT, he said. There are 10,230 users in Ontario who currently rely on alerts from Environment Canada, and now have access to the recent addition of flood warnings from the NPCA, he said.

His company is “in active discussion with other conservation authorities,” so flood warnings on the app may soon be available in other parts of the province, said Westfall.

The NPCA typically issues a dozen flood notices each year, according to Miller. With Alertable, “those notices will be transmitted directly to residents, telling them what’s happening and what they should do.”

Miller hopes “everyone” will download the app, because “the more notice people have, the better they can respond.”