The RCMP in B.C. sent an emergency text alert for the first time in its history on Thursday, having updated its policy around using the system after the deadly mass shooting that left 22 dead in Nova Scotia last year.
Police sent the text alert to several thousand people in the Vanderhoof, B.C., area around midday in response to reports of a man with a long gun targeting the RCMP detachment.
The concern, RCMP said, was that the suspect had a vehicle and was driving through the community. The alert said there was an active shooter and told residents to stay inside and lock their doors, sending workers and children out during the lunch break rushing inside.
Within an hour, the suspect was arrested and the lockdown was lifted.
Nobody was hurt.
B.C. police updated policies over last 18 months
Later Thursday, RCMP confirmed it was the first time the straight-to-phone text system, known as Alert Ready, had been used in B.C. since the technology became available three years ago.
The overarching policy in B.C. had always been to reserve the national system for a tsunami, but police said that changed after tragedy on the other side of the country last year.
“The ability to issue a Police Emergency Alert has been the subject of discussion and advancement since 2020 as a result of the tragic incident in Nova Scotia,” said Eric Stubbs, assistant commissioner of criminal operations with the RCMP.
Stubbs said the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police created a committee to “establish protocols and procedures” in case a police department needed to send an alert. He said police now have the option to use the system when they have reason to believe there’s an active threat evolving too quickly for officers to contain.
The alert Thursday was sent out to people within a 150-kilometre radius of Vanderhoof, which is about 100 kilometres west of Prince George.
“We chose a larger radius outside of Vanderhoof given the suspect was mobile and driving,” Stubbs said, adding that it had been a “dynamic situation.”
The gunman responsible for the shooting in Nova Scotia last year had also been driving.
Eluding arrest by impersonating a police officer, the shooter drove to four different communities across the province and killed 22 people over the course of roughly 13 hours.
The RCMP only notified the Nova Scotia government that it wanted to send out an emergency alert five minutes before police shot the gunman, according to records obtained by CBC.
Loved ones of those killed said more information about the shootings as they were unfolding could have saved lives. An inquiry has been established to look at how police and various federal and provincial agencies responded, and how victims, their families and citizens were informed.
Last week, after southern B.C. suffered the most severe flooding event in decades, the province said it plans to change its protocols for using the Alert Ready system by next summer.