Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Erroneous flood alert baffles High River citizens

Had meant to signal an end to emergency

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HIGH RIVER, Alta. -- An update that was supposed to inform Albertans the provincial state of emergency in High River had ended probably caused a few people in the flood-ravaged town to scratch their heads.

A message was accidentally sent Saturday morning on the province's emergency-alert system that a flash-flood alert had been issued for High River and residents needed to take immediate precautions.

The weather at the time was clear, with blue skies and dry roads.

The town soon posted on Twitter that the alert was sent in error, and it was officially ended on the emergency-alert website a few moments later.

Joan Botkin, the town's communications manager, says the "glitch" happened when the town was announcing that the provincial state of emergency from last month's flooding was being changed to a local state of emergency.

The alert went out on Twitter and RSS feeds but provincial officials say it wasn't automatically broadcast over radio stations in the area.

"It was just a little accident -- not a big deal. It was just a glitch," Botkin said Saturday.

"I doubt if anyone heard it because a lot of people are cleaning out their houses," she added.

A spokesman with the province's Municipal Affairs Department, which operates the emergency-alert system, said local officials have access to the alert system and the mistake was made on their end.

"The alert only went out online," Tim Wilson said. "Provincial staff monitor the system and noticed the alert."

The provincial state of emergency was lifted in the town south of Calgary on Friday.

Provincial and local officials told a news conference on Saturday the switch from a provincial state of emergency to a local one meant the town was resuming its leadership role in the recovery process, which it surrendered during the height of the flooding.

The Alberta minister in charge of High River's rebuilding, Rick Fraser, said the province was still heavily involved in the rebuilding efforts. He noted the province had just signed a lease for office space in High River.

Fraser described the change as a downgrade from "a large-scale emergency" to "a local emergency."

"When a patient has a heart attack, the same staff remain around and available for that patient as they start to recover. With the initial surgery, obviously, there's lots of specialists and a lot of work being done in the immediate moment, but as they go through it, they still have that support as a supportive team as they go through the recovery. And its no different with this town."

"We're going to be here (in) a supportive role and be around and it's a supportive effort and it's important," Fraser continued.

"We're going to be here for the long haul."

The flood on June 20 submerged large portions of the town under dirty water. Most people have been allowed to at least return to their homes and see the damage, although residents of the Sunshine area of High River were still being kept away.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 14, 2013 A7

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