Emergency Alert Test Fails in Ontario and Quebec
Canada’s test of its new national emergency alert system for mobile devices failed in Quebec and was hit and miss in Ontario.
The test was meant to check the system before needing to communicate an actual emergency situation, such as a flood or a missing child emergency.
The Alert Ready system should have gone off on compatible smartphones in Quebec at 9:55AM on May 7, 2018. Instead, there was silence.
A spokesperson for the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) said the failure in Quebec was due to human error, attributed to an extra space typed in the code of the system.
The phone alerts are an addition to the existing broadcast system that works on television and radio. The alerts on these existing platforms worked as planned.
Hours later, in Ontario, there was another set of problems to the phone alerts.
Some received the alert, some got it late, some received it twice, and some didn’t get it at all. It’s not clear why the system didn’t work as expected.
This is the sound of the alarm:
Further testing was done for the rest of Canada on May 9. In an update the next day, the Alert Ready website posted, “wireless service providers are working to verify the handset reception success rate for compatible devices.”
The performance of the system is dependant on the mobile device as well as the wireless network the user is on, according to the company behind the technology. The system is available only on certain devices and can only be used on the LTE network.
However, some users with compatible devices and using the proper network still did not receive the alert.
“I will need to talk to the technical experts to see how serious a technical flaw existed … and whether this is somebody making a coding error or whether it’s more profound,” said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.
The company that operates the system, Pelmorex, is working with its partners to identify the cause of the issues.
Mobile device owners can check the compatibility of their wireless carrier on Alert Ready’s website.
Alert Ready’s website says the system is meant to “deliver potentially life-saving alerts to Canadians through television and radio” and now, ideally, through a mobile device as well.
With these alerts, authorized government agencies have a system to warn the public about issues deemed an imminent threat to life. The public can then decide whether to respond or not.
The U.S. has had a similar emergency alert system since 2012 which has issued over 33,000 alerts across the country to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing children, and other situations.
For example, in 2016, after bombs went off in New York and New Jersey, the system was used to put out a digital wanted poster identifying the suspect.
How the System Works
- An alert starts from an authorized government agency. The agency decides if an alert needs to be issued due to an “imminent threat to life.”
- The alert goes into the “National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination System” (NAAD System)
- The NAAD System communicates with radio stations, TV stations, and wireless companies to ask them to broadcast the alert in the affected area.
- Then it is up to the public to stop, listen, and respond to the message.
With files from The Canadian Press and CBC