Tag Archives: public alerts

Emergency alerts will take a while to get right

For the few of you who don’t still have ringing in your ears from that annoying emergency alert sound, today was the second attempt at the first test of the wireless public alerting system in Canada.

Set for 1:55pm local time (2:55pm in Quebec), the alerts started in Newfoundland and Labrador and followed the time zones to B.C. and Yukon. I’ve compiled reports of those alerts in this Twitter thread:

Every province and territory (even Nunavut, which didn’t participate last time) successfully sent out an alert, but that doesn’t mean that everyone successfully got one. There a lot of moving parts to this process, and each one has to be working properly for the alerts to reach people’s TV screens and phones.

Today’s process involved the following steps and groups:

  • Coordination of the emergency alert test, by government agencies
  • Issuing of the emergency alert test by provincial and territorial emergency agencies
  • Distribution of the emergency alert test by the National Public Alerting System
  • Broadcast of the emergency alert test by wireless providers, television providers, mobile applications and television and radio stations
  • Reception of the emergency alert test by compatible set-top boxes and mobile devices

If any of those steps fail, the message doesn’t get through.

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Canada’s emergency alerting system needs some improvement

UPDATED with results of the test below (spoiler alert: a massive failure).

On Monday at 9:55am, people in Quebec will get their first taste of wireless public alerting as their phones blurt out the most annoying sound bureaucrats could conceive and display a test message. (Ontario’s test is at 1:55pm and the rest of the country will get the alert on May 9 at 1:55pm local time.)

At the same time, television and radio stations will interrupt their regular programming to send out similar alerts, and TV set-top boxes will display them or automatically tune to a special channel.

It’s a good step toward building a system that can save lives in the event of an emergency. And though people might complain that it’s taken too long to get to this point, that the CRTC or the government or broadcasters are dragging their feet, the truth is that this is the kind of thing you really want to make sure to get right. The last thing you want is people trying to figure out how they can disable these alarms because there are too many false ones.

Unfortunately, even before the alert goes out, I’ve noticed some problems with the system that authorities should really look into fixing.

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