News

1. Mass Casualty Commission

“The clock is ticking,” writes Stephen Kimber. “There are just 116 weekdays between now and the day that the Nova Scotia Mass Casualty Commission is required — by the orders in council that created it — to report back to the rest of us…

Neither the federal nor provincial government wanted this public inquiry to happen at all. They did their best to avoid it. They preferred a quiet “review” that could be contained and controlled, filed and forgotten.

If not for the angry protests by the families of those who lost their loved ones, this inquiry wouldn’t be happening at all.

But…

Given all of that — and I realize I may be in a minority here — I think the commission has done a good job so far of constructing a compelling, deeper narrative of what happened and why, thanks to the presentations during its limited public sessions, its 18 (so far) foundational documents and its more than 1,400 supporting source materials.

People will argue about the work the commission has done. Critics want a full-throttled condemnation of the RCMP, and they wanted that from Day 1 of proceedings. But what we have is legalistic approach — first laying out all the documents to build a factual base. That’s needed before any conclusions can be reached, but those facts have been embedded in a contextual narrative that doesn’t meet the desired full-throttled condemnation of the RCMP that people are seeking. It might come yet, but this leaves people thinking the commission is a whitewash. It doesn’t help that this process is unfolding in a “trauma informed” manner that at times seems to mean that essential witnesses will not be required to testify in public.

It’s frustrating. I’ve been following along and reporting on commission proceedings full time (and more) since the inquiry began. I get paid for this, and I have some skill in connecting dots, but even I can’t keep up. Typically, I’m given access to supporting documents 24 hours before they’re released publicly and included in the commission’s “foundational” document that puts those supporting documents in narrative context. But sometimes there can be thousands of pages to digest in those 24 hours; it’s just not humanly possible to process it all. Commission staff, in contrast, have been working with these documents for a year.

I don’t know what the solution is, or how this could’ve been handled differently.

I will say this: I don’t think this is a whitewash. The documents released so far are damning. I don’t see that anything is being withheld, or at least that those things held back for the moment won’t later be released. But I agree with Kimber:

But, even if one accepts that the commissioners are doing their best to get to the truth — and I do — the reality, as Tara Miller, a lawyer representing a relative of victim Kristen Beaton, who was gunned down while sitting in her car, is that “We have a daunting calendar with a very tight timeline.”

The next phases of the inquiry will be critical. It shouldn’t be rushed to fit an arbitrary deadline. All questions need to be asked and answered.

That means the commissioners need more time to do their work. And we need more time to see them do it.

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2. Emergency alert

Over the weekend, there was a tornado watch issued for parts of New Brunswick, and that got me wondering: If weather radar detected an actual tornado five minutes out from the Halifax peninsula, could the emergency alert system be activated in time for people to people to take refuge in basements and such?

I’m guessing not. And that’s despite the attention brought to the emergency alert system since the mass murders of 2020.

Consider that last Friday an alert was issued for air quality concerns in the area around an industrial fire in Burnside. Was that alert timely?

Readers tell me that the fire department was dispatched to the scene at 11:16am. A “stay indoors” advisory was issued via something called HfxAlert (which is on the Everbridge App) at 12:31pm, but the full public alert that lands on every 4G-connected phone whether they have an app or not wasn’t issued until 1:18pm.

I don’t know why it took responders more than hour to determine that air quality may have been an issue. Maybe it took them that long to determine what was burning.

That issue aside, have you ever heard of Everbridge? I hadn’t. The city issued a press release about it in 2019:

Today the Halifax Regional Municipality launched hfxALERT – the new mass notification system that provides timely alerts with important urgent and non-urgent information.

hfxALERT will strictly issue municipal notifications. These alerts may be urgent, such as evacuations, or non-urgent, such as overnight winter parking bans.  The notifications will be sent via email, automated phone call and/or text message. Residents must sign up online to receive these alerts.

In addition to signing up for hfxALERT, residents can also download the Everbridge mobile app which will ‘geo-target’ notifications. This way, users of the mobile app will receive alerts to their device (e.g. smart phone) whenever they are in an area of the municipality that is being specifically targeted by the notification.

Other message types will be added as deemed relevant over time.

Notifications will be sent by Halifax Regional Police, the Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency’s Emergency Management Division and by the Corporate Communications department of the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Not everyone — including reporters — reads every city press release, and not everybody wants to download an app. And people travelling into the city from other provinces and countries will have no reason to download a Halifax-specific app. So the usefulness of Everbridge is quite limited.

It alarms me that after the fire department was able to issue the alert via Everbridge it took another 47 minutes for the public alert system to be activated.

I don’t know the severity of the air quality issue on Friday, so I can’t speculate as to whether anyone may have been harmed by that delay. Hopefully not. But what about that imagined tornado five minutes out? What about a mass murderer driving around the province shooting people willy nilly?

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3. “Green” hydrogen and public money

The Port of Stephenville. Photo: Facebook

Mary Campbell and I have been reporting on Everwind, the new firm created by venture capitalist Trent Vichie that has purchased the Point Tupper tank farm as part of a “green” hydrogen project. Just how “green” the hydrogen is open to debate, but as Campbell noted:

If you’re wondering why Australian-born, New York-based Vichie is suddenly interested in turning Nova Scotia into a regional green hydrogen hub, the answer can be found under the “climate” section of Canada’s 2022 federal budget:

Budget 2022 announces that the Department of Finance Canada will engage with experts to establish an investment tax credit of up to 30 per cent, focused on net-zero technologies, battery storage solutions, and clean hydrogen [emphasis mine]. The design details of the investment tax credit will be provided in the 2022 fall economic and fiscal update.

Infrastructure is a particular PE “strategy,” one that, according to Crystal Capital Markets, “targets assets that provide essential utilities or services” and that “generate a return through the public need of said asset.” The list of such assets includes everything from water distribution companies to airports to hospitals to schools to roads to renewable assets like wind/solar farms.

In other words, the strategy is to insert yourself between people and something vital to them (think Mad Max in The Road Warrior, “You want to get out of here, you talk to me”) and extract a steady stream of income while also charging your investors a 2% management fee and taking 20% of any profits (which you will call “carried interest” and pay capital gains tax on instead of personal income tax, thus paying less tax than your secretary).

And of course, it involves inserting yourself into a space that used to be the responsibility of governments, who would borrow money to build infrastructure. (So boring, nobody got rich.)

Guess who else is getting in on the “green” hydrogen subsidy bandwagon?

If you guessed John “I never turn down a public subsidy but criticize everyone else who does” Risley, you get an expensive gold star!

Reports the CBC:

A Nova Scotia businessman who made his mark in the seafood business is eyeing the potential of converting wind on Newfoundland’s west coast into environmentally friendly hydrogen.

John Risley, chairman and chief executive officer of CFFI Ventures and former head of Clearwater Seafoods, says he has entered into an agreement with First Nations partners to acquire the Port of Stephenville, which would be used to ship hydrogen created in the province around the world.

The plan comes just weeks after the Newfoundland and Labrador government lifted a moratorium on privately owned onshore wind projects.

Funny how governments change their policies just as Risley needs a policy change, innit? How’d that happen? Another CBC article explains:

Industry, Energy and Technology Minister Andrew Parsons told the House of Assembly the moratorium had been “a barrier to wind investment and development.”

Parsons said several companies had already expressed interest in developing wind farms in the province.

“We’re signalling to developers, to interested parties … that we are going to be open for business,” he told reporters during a scrum Tuesday afternoon.

Risley is not registered as a lobbyist in Newfoundland and Labrador. A week after Parsons’ announcement, a lobbyist registered on behalf of Toronto-based Brookfield Renewable Power (I can’t find any obvious connection between Brookfield and Risley), but I don’t see that any other renewable energy firms had registered as lobbyists before Parsons’ announcement. I guess “expressing interest” that results in a change in government policy doesn’t equate to lobbying.

I drove through Stephenville last summer. Nice place. I had my credit cards with me, but I didn’t know the port was for sale. I wonder if I could’ve afforded it. The ceeb article doesn’t tell us how much that public asset was sold for. In fact, the ceeb article doesn’t give us any financial figures at all, but does quote Risley:

“At this stage, all we have said to the community and to governments at both levels is we’re working hard, we’re spending money, but we don’t know and we won’t yet until hopefully September or October.”

Let me rephrase that: “we’re spending public money…”

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4. Atlantic Loop

The Atlantic Loop. Graphic: Emera

This item is written by Jennifer Henderson.

A new study prepared for the Ecology Action Centre concludes the building of new transmission lines to the Maritimes from energy powerhouse provinces such as Newfoundland and Quebec would be the fastest way to phasing out coal-fired power plants but not necessarily the only means to achieving that goal. 

The idea of building a new overhead transmission line called the Atlantic Loop to deliver renewable hydroelectricity from either Labrador or Quebec to New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and PEI remains just that — an idea that would cost at least $5 billion to build and has been the topic of ongoing discussions among utilities and premiers for the past year.

In February, Emera president Scott Balfour, who has supported the Atlantic Loop as the best prospect for providing reliable clean energy to replace dirty coal-fired power plants, noted “the window was closing quickly” for making a decision to meet the federal and provincial government’s 2030 deadline.

“We are still hopeful for more clarity (around the Atlantic Loop) by mid-year,” Balfour said last winter. 

Well, June is just around the corner. Last week, Nova Scotia Renewable Energy Minister Tory Rushton was asked about the Atlantic Loop and he indicated Nova Scotia is still working on costing out its request to Ottawa for a financial contribution. Earlier reports put that in the $2 billion range. 

“We are finalizing some initiatives to assess the actual total cost,” said Rushton opaquely. “We have some pretty ambitious (climate) targets and 2030 is not that far away, so we do realize there are going to have to be some decisions made very shortly.”

In fact, during a meeting of the Atlantic Premiers in March, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs openly questioned whether the Atlantic Loop — which would require a new interconnection or overhead power line built at the border between NB and NS — could “realistically” be built within the seven to eight years needed to retire coal plants in both provinces. 

Power imports will be required

The one point on which the new study, the premiers, and Emera all agree is that whenever the coal-fired power plants do close, more sources of electricity will be required and much of that will need to be imported to avoid brownouts or disruptions to the grid. 

The study entitled “Assessing Net-Zero Electricity Supply and Demand Models in the Atlantic Loop” was prepared by the firms EnviroEconomics and Navius Research for the Ecology Action Centre.

“While generation from new renewable sources within each of the provinces is important to meeting future generation mixes, the modelling suggests that Atlantic Loop scenarios that supply low emitting hydro from Newfoundland or Quebec are important to meeting future demand,” states the study.

While the study states that new transmission infrastructure is “important” to phase out coal, it stops short of prescribing that the Atlantic Loop must be built or the sky will fall.

“We conclude a portfolio approach that includes developing more domestic renewable generation while exploring Atlantic Loop opportunities is a prudent approach to meeting future electricity needs under a net-zero, and fossil free future,” reads the report.

And here are the reasons why the study is hedging its bets:

First, the assumed costs in the model are uncertain, which would flip the results in favor of a more renewable intensive generation mix in each province. Notable cost uncertainties include the cost of Atlantic Loop scenarios, which could be underestimated as is typically the case, while renewable costs might continue a trend of falling faster than anticipated. 

Second, future supply out of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador to feed into the Atlantic Loop may be a question given competition for such low emitting generation in the United States and Ontario.

 Finally, our analysis suggests renewable generation paired with storage could be a total game changer, flipping the analysis on its head.

The study acknowledges the transition from coal to renewable energy will cost consumers big bucks initially (how much is unclear) but those power bills should come down over time. 

The big winner will be the planet, as the switch from coal will see greenhouse gas emissions fall dramatically. The report models several different scenarios where the variables include different means of transmission — overhead power lines versus underwater submarine cables — that include shorter or longer payback periods. Here are two examples:

Scenario 1 : A 1,000 MW line is built from Newfoundland and Labrador with hydroelectricity wheeled through Quebec and into New Brunswick. A 500 MW line is built for exchange between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Indicative costs include $1.6B in capital cost for transmission backbone upgrades between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick under two financing assumptions (low: 2% financed over 50 years; high: 7% financed over 30 years), and a range of delivered energy costs of $50 to $80 per MWh.

Scenario 2 : A 250 MW line, or Maritime Link 2, is built between Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. Indicative costs include $1B in capital cost for 250MW undersea transmission cable between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador under a range of financing assumptions (low: 2% financed over 50 years; high: 7% financed over 30 years), and a range of delivered energy costs of $50 to $80 per MWh.

The common denominator in both scenarios is the amount of political will and cooperation among provinces and power companies necessary to get either ambitious project off the ground. Without it, it’s unlikely lofty goals to green the grid or retire coal plants by 2030 can be achieved. 

Technically, its feasible. Although the experience so far with deliveries of hydroelectricity over the Maritime Link proves delays are inevitable and after several years, that project has yet to fully deliver on what was promised in 2013. Maybe a new technology will beat the Loop to the punch.

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5. Bodidata

Philadelphia Inquirer fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington took her turn in the My Best Fit body scanner at King of Prussia Mall in 2010, with Unique Solutions’ chief technical officer Bob Kutnick and CEO Tanya Shaw. Photo: philly.com

Bodidata is still kicking around. I had forgotten all about the company but apparently I set up a Google News alert for it five years ago, and so it popped up in my email this morning, in the form of a self-serving announcement that it has won an “innovation award” from NAUMD, the Global Network of Uniform Manufacturers and Distributors, and no, that acronym makes no sense.

As I explained those five long years ago:

Margie Manning, reporting for the Tampa Bay [Florida] Business Journal, notes that a new firm, called BodiData Inc, has quietly emerged on the local business scene. Manning learned about the company through a stock offering filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission; BodiData is seeking to raise a total of US$5 million through the offering, and has already raised US$2.57 million in equity from its founding investors.

Why should we in Nova Scotia care about a start-up tech firm in Florida? Because BodiData is using technology that was developed in part thanks to CN$5.6 million ponied up by Nova Scotian taxpayers. That money came in the form of a Nova Scotia Business Inc equity investment in Dartmouth firm Unique Solutions.

As the Halifax Examiner has reported, Unique Solutions developed a “body scanning” booth that promised to allow shoppers to buy clothes that fit them without trying on the clothes. With the NSBI investment in hand, the company deployed over 70 scanning booths in shopping malls around the United States, but the venture was unsuccessful. The booths were removed from malls, almost the entire value of Unique Solutions’ stock was written off, and the smouldering remains of the company were rebranded first as Me-Ality and then as MeID Inc.

A Silicon Valley “angel” investor named Tuoc Luong was brought in to replace company founder Tanya Shaw as CEO, and having developed a “hand held scanner” version of the body scan booth technology, the company embarked on a last-ditch search for new investors, but folded in August. Although NSBI hasn’t officially written it off, it’s clear that the entire NSBI investment is gone.

And now BodiData pops up. Manning reports that two executive officers at BodiData — J. Bruce Terry and Luong — were both executives at MeID. Moreover:

BodiData appears to have many similarities to MeID. On Feb. 21, it was assigned a patent for an invention by Unique Solutions Design Ltd. for a handheld, multi-sensor system for sizing irregular objects.

The patent for the handheld scanner lists five inventors, including Kent Worsnop of Lawrencetown, who was Unique Solutions’ VP of Research, and Robert Kutnick, of Boca Raton, Florida, who was Unique Solutions’ Chief Technical Officer. BioData’s offices, reports Manning, are registered to a South Petersburg condo.

When MeID failed, debtors were left holding the bag for what I once estimated was around $100 million in company liabilities. Luong wrote a letter to shareholders explaining the bankruptcy process:

Senior secured creditors have outstanding loans of $US1.7 million and junior secured creditors have loans of more that $US31 million. Those loans take priority over the claims of unsecured creditors, which in turn rank ahead of Preferred Shareholders and Common Shareholders. The Preferred Shareholder’s priority claims represent more that US$8 million. Consequently the liquidation process will need to generate more than US$41million in order for Common shareholders to receive any form of distribution. We can offer no expectations as to the level of proceeds that may be realized from a liquidation process. However, we believe it is unlikely that material proceeds will be realized based on, among others, the general lack of interest in our most recent financing round.

In short, with too many investors expecting a stake in the company, and with too much other debt, MeID could not attract enough investment to keep the company afloat.

But through the liquidation process, company execs Luong and Terry picked up the Unique Solutions patent at fire sale prices, created their new company, BodiData, and went looking for investors who might be attracted to a new company offering the same technology but without the debt.

I wonder how Unique Solutions’ investors feel about that.

And isn’t it great the Nova Scotian taxpayers have funded the development of a technology now being used by a start-up operation in Florida? Some might call it an innovative approach to economic development.

Incidentally, Bodidata (it’s dropped the capital D) cofounder Bruce Terry was an exec with Sobeys before joining up with Luong, so he was able to leverage that NSBI investment into a career down in the states as well.

And Bodidata has “partnered” (whatever that means) with Uniform Works, which is headquartered in Dartmouth and is a “distributor for Canada’s largest body armor manufacturer and offers a complete range of uniforms, footwear, public safety and protective equipment.”

Bodidata is privately held, so I don’t have any insight on its financials. My guess is that over these five years it’s been floating on venture capital money (its board includes both a board member and an executive from Netflix) but I just can’t see that there’s a market for this equipment. Body scanners sound like a good idea to tech people and people with money, but it turns out that regular people actually want to try on clothes before buying them, and besides very specialized uses — think spacesuits — there’s no profit for a manufacturer that retools for each individual consumer. Is Uniform Works really going to uniquely fit body armour for each of the 19,000 RCMP officers? What’s that going to do to costs?

I see the body scanner as the equivalent of the Uber app. Just as Uber thought it could “disrupt” the taxi industry by squeezing out the driver, Bodidata thinks it can “disrupt” the clothes industry by squeezing out the tailor. But in both instances the working human is essential. You can float the supposed disruption for many years on investment money without seeing profit, but sooner or later marketplace realities come calling.

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6. Ferry

The Alakai, docked at Yarmouth in 2019. Photo: Suzanne Rent

In other bad investment news, the Yarmouth ferry is sailing again. I don’t like to make predictions, especially about the future, but I can guarantee one thing: no matter how much money the ferry loses, no government will pull the plug on the boat.

I do think Americans will start travelling again, and there will be a big increase in tourism to Nova Scotia. But generally, they won’t take the boat. They’ll drive. There’s a nice, new four-lane highway through New Brunswick that has reduced travel time and costs considerably, and while the boat will always have its novelty, it gets old after a while.

I’m all for investing in southern Nova Scotia; I just don’t see the rusty old tub as the best ROI. Let’s instead do the helicopter drop:

You think I’m kidding about the Yarmouth helicopter drop? Consider that Chase the Ace is considered an economic driver in this province.

Yesterday, Suzanne Rent made the point that dropping $20 bills from a helicopter would itself be a tourist attraction — “It would like one of those game show money booths! People LOVE those,” she says — and so generate even more business for the Yarmouth area hotels, bars, and coffeeshops. Let’s consider…

Suppose we hired a helicopter and pilot at a seasonal cost of a million dollars and sent the thing up above downtown Yarmouth each Saturday and Sunday for the 18 weeks of the summer season. The additional $14 million/year we’re already spending would translate into daily drops of $388,888, or 19,445 $20 bills, which is to say over an eight-hour period, 40 $20 bills per minute — call it one $20 bill every 1.5 seconds.

Granted, we’d need an extra person to actually toss the money out of the helicopter, but I bet we could get Pam Mood to do it gratis.

People would flock to Yarmouth to watch the spectacle. The running of the bulls in Pamplona would have nothing on the Yarmouth helicopter drop. Hotels would fill up, bars would do a brisk business, traffic would pile up on the 101 as Americans drive around.

We don’t need no stinking ferry.

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7. Collapse

A construction collapse in Bedford. Photo: Joanne Kimm via Global News

“Nobody was injured after a building under construction in Bedford, N.S., collapsed Sunday afternoon,” reports Alex Cooke for Global:

The building, which will be the site of the future Larry Uteck Plaza on the corner of Larry Uteck Boulevard and Brookline Drive, had been under construction for about three weeks, according to developer Mori Salehi.

Salehi, of Larry Uteck Developments Ltd., told Global News Monday that nobody was on site when the building collapsed.

Salehi added the cause of the collapse is under investigation by the company, contractors and insurance. He said he’s confident that all rules and regulations were followed in the construction of the building.

Shit just happens. It’s unexplainable.

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Government

City

Tuesday

No meetings

Wednesday

Heritage Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 3pm) — virtual meeting

Western Common Advisory Committee (Wednesday, 6:30pm) — virtual meeting

Province

Tuesday

Natural Resources and Economic Development (Tuesday, 1pm, One Government Place) — Small Woodlots and the Value of Ecological Forestry, with representatives from the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables, Nova Scotia Woodlot Owners & Operators, Western Woodlot Services Cooperative, and The Confederacy of Mainland Mi’Kmaq

Wednesday

Public Accounts (Wednesday, 9am, Province House) — 2022 Report of the Auditor General – Oversight and Management of Individuals Serving Community-Based Sentences: Department of Justice, with Candace Thomas


On campus

Saint Mary’s

Tuesday

Womens’ Empowerment Conference: Kick-off Panel (Tuesday, 12pm) — the first event in a week-long virtual conference. More details and registration here.

Wednesday

Womens’ Empowerment Conference: Women in STEM (Wednesday, 5:30pm) — the second event in a week-long virtual conference. More details and registration here.


In the harbour

Halifax
05:30: Siem Aristotle, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Emden, Germany
06:00: Tropic Hope, container ship, arrives at Pier 41 from St. Croix, Virgin Islands
11:30: Siem Aristotle sails for sea
18:00: Tropic Hope sails for Palm Beach, Florida
21:00: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from Liverpool, England

Cape Breton
No arrivals or departures


Footnotes

Nice day, looks like.


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Tim Bousquet

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

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  1. The future energy grid will be one of Green Hydrogen. It is the inevitable endpoint unless nuclear fission is developed. It’s an idea that was first laid out in 1923 by J.B.S. Haldane. Use wind and solar to create hydrogen from seawater and use that to burn to power the grid.
    These in between steps are sadly mostly due to people and corporations and governments not being able to jump off the deep end straight into hydrogen… so we will go into this weird overly complicated mixed source grid with batteries and all of the impact that comes with producing them and continued use of fossil fuels. During my environmental science degree twenty years ago most of my professors were even then advocating moving straight to a hydrogen infrastructure over an electric/battery infrastructure.
    If Nova Scotia wants to get ahead of the ball we would be creating the infrastructure to produce green hydrogen to fuel to future economy and become net exporters of hydrogen and electricity. As a maritime province with wind and solar resources and access to seawater we are very well placed to do so.

  2. Re: Atlantic Loop

    Why doesn’t nuclear power come up in these discussions? SNC Lavalin builds CANDU reactors, including SMRs, and I’m sure they would be willing to talk about outfitting Nova Scotia with a couple.

  3. Yet another failure story with a massive loss by InnovaCorp. Hs by one done a cost benefit analysis on if this is worthwhile? Other than a shady backroom deal to sell ecologically sensitive land at a bargain basement price to a rich developer to make him richer, is it worth the losses for the rare gains?

  4. helicopter idea looks like a winner .. at Thanksgiving .. they could do a live turkey drop
    that worked for WKRP didn’t it ?

  5. While I don’t have the mobile app, it appears I did sign up for the hfxALERT email, having recieved a email titled ‘hfxALERT Communications TEST – all contacts’ in December 2019, then lastly 3 emails about COVID in April 2020. Loging in, I appear to be subscribed to all ‘Urgent Public Safety Alerts’ and my current address in Dartmouth populates in my profile. I did not receive an email from hfxALERT about the fire, so I suppose having the app was necessary to receive that message.