The City of Kamloops will implement a one-year trial of Voyent Alert — an emergency alert app used by the Thompson-Nicola Regional District.
The municipality entered into a one-year agreement with Voyent in the wake of criticism over poor communication when evacuating Juniper Ridge and Valleyview during the July 1 wildfire, but that licence doesn’t launch until later this fall when version 2.0 of the app is released.
In the interim, the city has used the TNRD’s Voyent account, issuing a pair of wildfire evacuation alerts in August. Council, however, stopped short of approving funding of its own four-year licence after councillors raised concerns last month about technical difficulties with the smartphone app.
City communications supervisor Kristen Rodrigue told council this week that the city’s IT team has since met with Voyent representatives to review their system and is confident in its ability to deliver as promised once the city is using its own account.
She said the difficulties were caused by the city piggybacking on the TNRD account, which it crashed by overloading the regional district’s subscription base.
Rodrigue said there should not be a concern over a similar problem happening with the city account because Voyent’s servers are is designed to scale, with the city account set up for an unlimited number of users and alerts.
While using the TNRD’s system allowed the city to get up and running quickly amidst wildfire season, it is not the desired long-term solution, Rodrigue said, noting staff are working through the training and implementation of their own Voyent account.
At present, the city has about 16,000 subscribers through the TNRD account.
The municipality will use Voyent for emergency and critical event communications only this first year, Rodrigue said. After that, the app will be assessed based on user feedback and, if the city decides to continue using Voyent, there is potential to expand the system’s use to non-critical informational uses, such as for roadway advisories, development notifications, public engagement and event promotion.
“Those could potentially also be used for things like elections,” Rodrigue said, noting the app could send a message to someone near a voting station.
Registered users would have the ability to opt in or opt out of any topic at any time.
According to the city, Voyent does not store personal information.
Rodrigue said Voyent allows people to register anonymously and can send push notifications to selected addresses in a variety of ways — via the app, text message, email or landline message. With geo-fencing capabilities, the app can also message a phone if one happens to drive into an evacuation alert area, Rodrigue said.
“This is an additional communications tool that the city will use during an emergency,” she said. “It’s not the only tool we will use.”
Rodrigue said if there is no user feedback by the end of the year, the city could consider a test of the emergency application.
The municipality decided to implement Voyent over similar apps as the neighbouring TNRD and Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc are both using it and because the provincial government does not provide municipalities access to its AlertReady software.
The city, band and regional district all share an audience and once version 2.0 launches, all registered users within City of Kamloops boundaries will automatically be connected to the municipal account and will not be required to re-register. If the current version or another app were used, all those who signed up with the city would have to do so again, meaning some could be lost.
School District 73 has reached out to the city to discuss the potential of the school district also using the system, a staff report to council stated.
On Aug. 17, council held off on approving a $15,000 annual subscription fee for a four-year term so staff could report back on the application, but signed off on $40,000 of initial set-up costs — the one-year licensing fee ($15,000), user training ($5,000) and planned community registration communications (up to $20,000, if needed).
Moving forward, if council wishes to extend the use of Voyent, it will cost $15,000 per year.