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

New Democrats would bring in $25 daycare if re-elected: Notley

Notley said the plan would include adding 13,000 daycare spaces

Supporters rally for Jason Kenney as UCP leader stops in Red Deer

Kenney promises equalization reform, stopping ‘Trudeau-Notley’ payroll hike, trade, economic mobility

WATCH: Fashion show highlights Cree designers

The fashion show was part of a Samson Cree Nation conference on MMIW

Rimbey RCMP need help identifying vandals

Plus, GPS in stolen vehicle helps locate it and the suspect in Red Deer

Ponoka Chamber to host election forum

All-candidates forum for Lacombe-Ponoka set for March 28 at the Ponoka Legion

Edmonton judge rules Omar Khadr’s sentence has expired

Eight-year sentence imposed in 2010 would have ended last October had Khadr remained in custody

Sources say Trudeau rejected Wilson-Raybould’s conservative pick for high court

Wilson-Raybould said Monday “there was no conflict between the PM and myself”

Social media comments continue to dog ranks of United Conservative candidates

Eva Kiryakos was running in Calgary-South East in the April 16 vote

Apple announces its long-awaited streaming TV service

The iPhone has long been Apple’s marquee product and main money maker, but sales are starting to decline

Trudeau delivers campaign-style speech while introducing candidate Taggart

The Order of British Columbia recipient said she wants to be the people’s voice in Ottawa

15 Canadians on cruise ship that was stranded off Norway; one injured

The cruise ship was carrying 1,373 passengers and crew when it issued a mayday call on Saturday afternoon

Terror at sea: Helicopter rescues frightened cruise passengers in Norway

The Viking Sky cruise ship was carrying 1,300 passengers and crew when it experienced engine trouble

DOJ: Trump campaign did not co-ordinate with Russia in 2016

Attorney General William Barr said special counsel “does not exonerate” Trump of obstructing justice

Most Read