September 24, 2018 1 year 2 weeks ago

Public alerting system saved lives in Ottawa, but needs more testing, public education: CRTC

OTTAWA – Despite issuing over 100 updates and wireless alerts warning of high-risk emergencies, Canadians still have questions about how the national public alerting system works and which devices are compatible, says CRTC chief consumer officer Scott Shortliffe.

Speaking Monday before the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, Shortliffe said that the system, publicly branded as Alert Ready, has been used successfully to warn of dangerously high water levels and flooding in Alberta, wildfires in Saskatchewan, Amber Alerts in Ontario and Saskatchewan, and drinking water advisories in several communities.  On Friday, it also warned of tornado watches in the Ottawa area, and since credited with saving the lives of children in Dunrobin, ON.

“Despite these successes, this system is still fairly new and new challenges can emerge”, he added.  “Just last week, an Amber Alert in Saskatchewan was delayed by three hours on the wireless platforms. Previous alerts in the province had passed through successfully. The Commission is following up to determine what happened in this specific situation, but it is cases like this that demonstrate the importance of continued testing.”

Acknowledging the “growing pains” of the alert testing that took place in May, Shortliffe added that system administrator Pelmorex and wireless service providers have reported to the CRTC that all the early problems have been fixed.  In addition, most wireless service providers have conducted subsequent invisible test alerts to further confirm the challenges have been resolved.

All wireless service providers must distribute public emergency alert messages on their LTE networks, but not all cellphones are presently compatible with the system.  However, as of April 2019, 100% of new devices sold must be, Shortliffe said.