The RCMP in BC sent an emergency alert for the first time in its history on Thursday, after updating its policy on using the system after the deadly mass shooting that left 22 dead in Nova Scotia last year.
Police sent the SMS alert to thousands of people in the Vanderhoof, BC, area around noon in response to reports of a man with a long pistol aiming at the RCMP department.
The concern, the RCMP said, was that the suspect had a vehicle and was driving through the community. The warning said there was an active shooter, telling residents to stay inside and lock their doors, sending workers and children out during the lunch break, who hurried inside.
Within an hour, the suspect was arrested and the barricade was lifted.
No one was injured.
BC police updated policies over the last 18 months
Later Thursday, the RCMP confirmed that it was the first time the direct-to-phone text system, known as Alert Ready, had been used in BC since the technology became available three years ago.
The overall policy in BC had always been to reserve the national system for a tsunami, but police said it changed after tragedy on the other side of the country last year.
“The possibility of issuing an emergency alert from the police has been the subject of discussion and progress since 2020 as a result of the tragic incident in Nova Scotia,” said Eric Stubbs, Assistant Commissioner for Criminal Operations at the RCMP.
Stubbs said the BC Association of Chiefs of Police set up a committee to “establish protocols and procedures” should a police department send an alarm. He said police now have the option to use the system when they have reason to believe there is an active threat that is evolving too fast for officers to limit.
The warning Thursday was sent out to people within a 150-kilometer radius of Vanderhoof, which is about 100 kilometers west of Prince George.
“We chose a larger radius outside Vanderhoof as 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 run.
The shooter avoided arrest by pretending to be a police officer and drove to four different communities across the province, killing 22 people in about 13 hours.
The RCMP only notified the Nova Scotia government that it wanted to issue an emergency alert five minutes before police fired the gunman, according to records obtained by the CBC.
Loved ones of those killed said more information about the shootings as they unfolded could have saved lives. A study has been set up to look at how the police and various federal and provincial agencies responded and how victims, their families and citizens were informed.
Last week, after southern BC suffered from the most severe flood in decades, the province said it plans to change its protocols for using the Alert Ready system by next summer.