Wildfire rips through the forest south of Fort McMurray, Alta., in 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Here’s how Canada’s national public alert system will work

An explainer on how telecom providers will push emergency notifications out to users

Canadians seeking updates on public emergencies will soon have to look no further than their mobile phones.

Later this week, telecom providers will become part of the National Public Alerting System and will push emergency notifications out to users on their networks. Here’s a look at how the system is expected to work:

___

What is it?

The National Public Alerting System, often dubbed Alert Ready, is a service designed to deliver emergency notifications to Canadians. In the past the system has shared those messages over radio and television networks, but wireless networks will be included as of Friday. Customers with Canada’s major telecom providers have likely received text messages about the service in the past week or two, as the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has mandated that providers send at least one explanatory text a year for the next two years.

How does it work?

When an emergency situation develops, a government issuer (for example, a provincial or territorial emergency management agency, or Environment and Climate Change Canada) will deliver an alert to the National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination (NAAD) System, which is run by Weather Network parent company Pelmerex Corp. The system will then push the alert to broadcasters and wireless companies. According to the Alert Ready website, found at alertready.ca, wireless service providers will only relay messages issued for threat-to-life situations. The Alert Ready website says no data will be gathered about individuals, their wireless devices or their locations when emergency alerts are sent out.

What does this mean?

In case of emergencies, officials will be able to send a localized alert that will compel compatible phones on an LTE network to emit an alarm and display a bilingual text warning of exactly what is unfolding. The shrill, siren-like alarm tone is the same one that currently accompanies alerts broadcast via radio and television. The Alert Ready website says individuals will not be billed for messages they receive.

What situations could prompt an alert, and are there any geographical boundaries in play?

The Alert Ready website says alerts sent to wireless devices will be “geo-targeted,” meaning alerts will only be sent out to people likely to be impacted by the emergency event. The website offers a comprehensive list of the types of scenarios that could trigger an emergency notification. The broad categories are: fire (such as widespread industrial blazes or forest fires), natural (including earthquakes and severe weather), biological (such as major air or water contamination), terrorist threat, or civil emergency (such as a danger posed by an animal or an Amber Alert for a missing child). Alerts may also be issued if there’s a disruption or outage for 911 services.

Can I opt out?

No. The CRTC has previously stated that the alerts are too important to be optional, overriding preferences from telecom providers that pushed for an opt-out clause. However people dreading the sound of the alarm at odd hours have some choices. If a smartphone is turned off it cannot be forced on by an alert. Similarly, if a smartphone is muted an alert cannot force the device to play the alarm.

So does this mean I’ll start getting alerts on my phone as of Friday?

While a broad range of popular phones are compatible with the program, wireless providers have released different lists of phones that will receive the alerts on their networks. Consumers can look up their phone type and more information on the program at alertready.ca.

Will I get to see the system in action on my phone?

Yes. The CRTC has said that wireless carriers will conduct one test of the system during the week of May 6. Details have not yet been released.

____

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

ZONE 8: Gabby Knox is a 2nd-generation BC Summer Games competitor

Both parents competed in softball, but Knox of Williams Lake is making waves in the pool

Tour de Cariboo road ride and fundraiser going out in style on 25th anniversary

This year’s Tour de Cariboo fundraiser will celebrate 25 years of memories.

Tl’etinqox community strengthed by 2017 wildfires, says chief

Residents denied evacuation order to help themselves

West Fraser continues burned timber salvage in the Cariboo Chilcotin

Two cutting permits will allow the company to harvest 227,000 cubic metres of burnt timber

2017 fire babies pose for photo one year later

23 babies and their moms gathered for a photo shoot at the Williams Lake Fire Department

BC Wildfire merges two Okanagan wildfires

Large plume of smoke seen over the fire was a controlled event

Government sets full-time salary range for Justin Trudeau’s nanny

At its top range, the order works out to a rate of $21.79 per hour, assuming a 40-hour work week

Lower Mainland teams battle for baseball gold at BC Games

Vancouver Coastal squeaked out a 3-2 win against Fraser Valley

The Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw people signed an agreement-in-principle with the B.C. government

The signing ceremony, at the Eliza Archie Memorial School, was 25 years in the making

Canada to resettle dozens of White Helmets and their families from Syria

There are fears the volunteers would become a target for government troops

Francesco Molinari wins British Open at Carnoustie

It is his first win at a major and the first by an Italian

ZONE 7: Players’ insistence delivers North West softball team to BC Games

North West hasn’t had a girls softball team since 2010 but that changed at the Cowichan Summer Games

Recovery high schools could help teens before addiction takes hold: B.C. parents

Schools could provide mental health supports and let parents discuss their children’s drug use openly

Haida Gwaii village faces housing crisis, targets short-term rentals

Housing is tight and the village is pretty close to zero vacancy

Most Read