The technology exists to fix some of the design flaws in Canada’s mobile emergency alert system that was tested last week for an Amber Alert issued in Ontario, some experts say. A smartphone and a television receive visual and audio alerts to test Alert Ready, a national public alert system, in Montreal on Monday, May 7, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Changes needed for ‘Alert Ready’ mass emergency system

‘You need to strike this careful balance between alerting people to lots of problems — and doing it too often’

The technology exists to fix some of the design flaws in Canada’s mobile emergency alert system that was tested last week for an Amber Alert issued in Ontario, some experts say.

The ”Alert Ready” program — which sounds an alarm on LTE-connected smart phones during a crisis — could be more effective at alerting people to emergencies, they said.

“The approach we’re taking with mobile devices is the same we had in 1940, when we had sirens installed on buildings,” said Cosmin Munteanu, a professor of computer science and information at the University of Toronto.

“There’s no nuance involved.”

He said that because of smart phone technology, designers had the opportunity to cater details of the alarm — its sound, the colour that pops up on the screen — to the emergency it’s alerting people to.

Munteanu said that with the system as it is now, people who hear the blaring alarm associated with these emergency alerts for a missing child but don’t have an opportunity to read the text for some reason might believe they’re in imminent danger.

And in fact, several police forces in Ontario received complaints from members of the public last week when an alarm sounded on cell phones to announce an Amber Alert triggered by the disappearance of a boy outside of Thunder Bay, Ont.

Half an hour later, the sound rang out again. This time, the text of the alert was displayed in French. It would go off two more times — once in each official language — that day to announce the child was found safe.

Officers in two Ontario cities — Kingston and Guelph — tweeted that it was not appropriate to call 911 about the matter.

The incident left some questioning the inclusion of Amber Alerts in the mobile emergency system, which has no opt-out option in Canada, as mandated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

“If somebody in Toronto is alerted to an abducted child or a missing child in Thunder Bay, they can’t help,” said John Rainford, director of The Warning Project, founded by a group of experts who help organizations communicate during emergencies.

“But then also, that person in Toronto is like, ‘Okay, next time my phone rings in this weird sound, I don’t care,’” he said. “And I want them to care.”

A similar system exists in the United States, but people can choose not to receive notifications about Amber Alerts or local emergencies by modifying settings on their cell phones. They cannot, however, opt out of receiving directives from the White House.

It becomes a balancing act for authorities, he said.

“You need to strike this careful balance between alerting people to lots of problems — which is a good thing because then they’re aware that if that weird sound comes over my smart phone, that means something weird’s happening — and doing it too often.”

But Rainford said it’s a good thing that these kinks are happening now, before the masses need to be informed of a crisis on a larger scale.

“That’s actually part of the system,” he said. “You want to do that when (more) lives are not at stake.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Lacombe, Red Deer and Ponoka counties launch agricultural plastics recycling program

The three counties signed an agreement with Merlin Plastics

Bashaw council declines penalty forgiveness request from Bashaw Motel owners

The motel was destroyed in the 2016 fire; owners owe $46,000 in fire services, taxes and penalties

Ponoka’s Ronnie Racing wins Hot August Night

About 15,000 people filled the Castrol Raceway stands at the motorsports complex

Ponoka County residents divided on farmland uses

There were about 150 people at the county’s meeting related to reducing confined feeding operations.

Ponoka County slows changes to CFO plans

Residents speak their concerns over the potential of changing areas allowing CFOs

UPDATED: Gord Bamford Foundation Charity Gala brings the stars to Central Alberta

The Gala raises money for various children’s charities throughout Canada

Kids, seniors at risk as smoke from distant fires hangs over parts of B.C.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control says children’s lungs don’t fully develop until about age 10

New plan to lift more than two million people past the poverty line

Anti-poverty strategy will aim for 50 per cent cut in low-income rates: source

Liberals scrap lottery system for reuniting immigrants with their parents

Lottery for parent sponsorship to be replaced, more applications to be accepted

Ponoka RCMP investigate commercial break and enter

Other RCMP files include suspects photographing rural properties and other theft files

Trudeau says he won’t apologize to heckler, pledges to call out ‘hate speech’

Prime Minister had accused woman of racism as she shouted about illegal immigration at Quebec rally

Smoke from B.C. wildfires prompts air quality advisories across Western Canada

A massive cloud of smoke hangs over B.C. and Alberta due to wildfires

Pope on sex abuse: “We showed no care for the little ones”

In response to the Pennsylvania report, Francis labeled the misconduct “crimes”

Multiple quakes kill at least 12 on Indonesian islands

A shallow magnitude 6.9 quake that hit about 10 p.m causing landslides

Most Read