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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Anti-gang cops probe Kelowna’s street-level drug trade over B.C. Day long weekend

CFSEU’s Gang Enforcement Team was deployed to Kelowna last weekend

Roots & Blues announces ticket giveaway ahead of online festival

The festival is streaming free online this year, but those who pre-register can win passes for 2021.

Property tax late fees to kick in soon: City of Kelowna

Nearly 84 per cent of property owners paid their taxes by July 31

Man allegedly wielding knife at Kelowna Superstore arrested

The 29-year-old Kelowna man has been released on strict conditions for a future court date

YMCA reopening Kelowna pools

Kelowna Family Y and H2O Adventure and Fitness Centre reopening Monday, August 10

371 British Columbians battling COVID-19, health officials confirm

Thursday (Aug. 6) saw a second straight day of nearly 50 new confirmed cases

Smoker Farms bringing craft-style cannabis to Beaverdell

Husband-wife team growing small-scale cultivations of marijuana

Penticton man wakes to wildfire, forced to evacuate

A wildfire sparked off the side of Highway 97 near Penticton on Thursday

Visitors and non-residents entering closed remote B.C. First Nation’s territories

With limited resources, they say they don’t have any authority or power to enforce the closures

UBC loses appeal on Fisheries Act convictions

BC Supreme Court upholds order to pay $1.55-million fine

Masks to be mandatory on BC Transit, TransLink starting Aug. 24

Both BC Transit and TransLink made the announcement in separate press releases on Thursday

Acclaimed B.C. actor Brent Carver passes away

Carver, one of Canada’s greatest actors with a career spanning 40 years, passed away at home in Cranbrook

B.C. would not send students back to school if there was ‘overwhelming risk’: Horgan

Plan has left many parents across the province worried about their children’s safety

Most Read