The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve has added four new digital signs to help deliver safety messaging and notify visitors of any emergencies or closures ahead.
“Part of the beauty is that they can all display different stuff at any time… And, we can change it at a moment’s notice,” the Park Reserve’s visitor safety specialist Randy Mercer told the Westerly News.
The four new signs cost $300,000 to install and are located off the Pacific Rim Highway at each end of the Park Reserve’s boundary as well as at Wick Road and near Long Beach.
Mercer said the signs were strategically located where the messaging will be most applicable.
“We wanted to capture as much of the traffic going to different places for the types of events that we have in those places,” he said. “The goal is to hit as many people as many times before they get to the activity they’re going to do.”
He said the LED-screen signs were brought in to replace the Park-Reserve’s former wave hazard signs because a new five-tier wave and avalanche hazard rating is being used in National Parks across B.C. and Alberta.
He added that the new signs can go beyond just telling visitors what the hazard rating is as they can provide additional context to what the rating means and why it’s in place, from beach flooding to sporadically surging tides.
He said he has fielded many questions in the past from visitors who see an ‘Extreme’ wave hazard rating, but say the ocean looks calm.
“The reason why we would have put it at ‘Extreme’ is because every half-hour we’d get a huge set that rolls in and takes people by surprise,” he explained.
He said the messaging on the signs can be changed to warn of predators in the area or temporary closures and to prevent ‘bear jams’ by reminding drivers not to stop on the highway to view wildlife and added that they could also be used to alert drivers if the highway is closed due to an accident.
“As much of the value is in the other uses, the sporadic, infrequent type of emergency events we might use them for,” he said.
He said using the digital screens allows the Park Reserve to cut down on the amount of signage scattered across its landscape.
“We can display whatever we want whenever we want, so that was a big advantage,” he said.
“In the past, if you really wanted to educate people, or make an attempt to, you’d have to put up a million different signs that say a million different things.”
He hopes the new signs lead to safer explorations of the Park Reserve and elicit questions visitors unaccustomed to ocean environments might not have thought to ask.
“It’s all about hazard awareness,” he said. “It’s important for people to understand that this is just one place that we hope to give people some information that might trigger something else that they’ve seen, or something else that they will see along their travel to the beach. So that, by the time they get there, something has sunken in.”
The signs are currently being powered by electricity from nearby Hydro poles, but Mercer said they could be modified in the future to run on solar power or batteries so they could remain active in a power outage.
In an effort to avoid impacting wildlife at nighttime, while keeping the signs effective and operating, the signs will display light grey text showing the Park Reserve’s emergency contact number after sunset.
“Nobody wants bright colours at night,” Mercer said. “We’ve found a balance between addressing the environmental concern, not confusing the public and still displaying safety information at night.”