CANADA'S EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM IN NEED OF FINE TUNING
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by Michelle Moore
This week in Canada is Emergency Preparedness Week. From May 6 to May 12 cities, provinces, and territories excluding Nunavut, informed citizens on how to be prepared for an emergency situation.
This year an expansion of the National Public Alerting System saw test alerts sent over the wireless network for the first time but not everyone received an alert as intended. In Quebec, alerts did not go through the wireless network at all.
Pelmorex Weather Networks is responsible for the National Alert Aggregation & Dissemination System (NAAD System) which works with government bodies to distribute public safety messages through television, radio and wireless networks.
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) spokesperson Patricia Valladao said to this reporter that "what happened in Quebec from the explanation we had from Pelmorex was an extra space in the coding of the system."
It seems that the employee who was typing in the code that directed the system to send an alert over the wireless network mistakenly typed an extra space into the code which resulted in no alert being sent out at all.
In other provinces, alerts were sent out successfully but did not reach everyone's cellphone. Valladao said "there was still some spotty areas in some of the places, some received, some didn't. So that's why they're running the tests to be sure on what they need to improve and how to do that."
Some of the older cellphones are not compatible and therefore not capable of receiving the alert. Valladao explained "definitely some of the phones are not with the latest technology so they would be needing a software upgrade but we knew that in the beginning. It's something they will have to figure out with time. That's why they do the test way in advance of any kind of emergency."
The NAAD System which is part of the Alert Ready System said in a statement May 10 that “wireless service providers are working to verify the handset reception success rate for compatible devices. It is important to note that not all wireless devices are compatible and able to receive messages from Alert Ready. A device needs to be connected to an LTE network. Compatibility depends on many factors, including the handset and the software version on the device."
For those who may not have received a test alert this week, any questions about the compatibility of cellphones or tablets can also be clarified on www.AlertReady.ca.
People who did receive the test may have been surprised to hear their cellphones screech an unfamiliar sound comparable to a siren alarm. The Emergency Management Office of Nova Scotia announced last week that "a test alert will take place on May 9th at 1:55 p.m. as part of Emergency Preparedness Week. It begins with a loud alert sound, followed by a spoken message on television and radio and a message on cell phone screens."
In addition, first responders and emergency management leaders can be contacted through Facebook, Twitter and emails to ensure they can been promptly notified in times of emergency. The more traditional methods of distributing alerts through radio and television were conducted as usual with no such problems.
Throughout the week provincial governments worked with other provinces, The Weather Network, Public Safety Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada on Alert Ready, the public alerting system. While floods have been at the forefront of everyone's minds recently; information on fires, ice storms, hurricanes and even amber alerts are all transmitted through this system.
During the week residents were asked to familiarize themselves and their families with the risks particular to their community, be it forest fires in British Columbia or rising sea levels in Cape Breton. Citizens everywhere are highly encouraged to have an emergency kit prepared in advance that would sustain their household for at least 72 hours.
As we have seen in New Brunswick over the last two weeks, emergency preparedness is important. An emergency can come at any time and first responders may be overwhelmed so it is important that people be able to support themselves while they wait for help.
It is also important to make a plan to follow to avoid anything important being overlooked in times of stress. For instance, those in areas where sea level rise is an issue could choose a location of higher elevation to make their way. The plan could also include family and friends to contact as well as shutting off gas and water before leaving your home.
An emergency kit for three days should contain six litres of water per person, a first aid kit, prescription medication, canned food and can opener, dry food, batteries, matches, flashlight, emergency candles, pet food, and copies of important papers like your driver's license, birth certificate, and insurance policies. It could also include extra house and car keys and cellphone charger.
This is by no means an exhaustive list as needs will differ from person to person and depending on their location. It is also recommended to have an equivalent emergency kit in the back of your car in case you aren't home when disaster strikes.
In a press release Andrew Parsons, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment Newfoundland and Labrador said "during Emergency Preparedness Week, I encourage all residents to consider what they can do for themselves and their families to be prepared in the event of an emergency. Whether it is making a plan, checking the contents of your emergency kit, or learning more about the wireless alerting system, we all have a responsibility to take action to be emergency ready."
Understandably, this year Emergency Preparedness Week was a little different for the people of New Brunswick. On May 7, Justice and Public Safety Minister Denis Landry announced, "in light of the historic flood levels that are affecting many areas in our province, National Emergency Preparedness Week is an opportunity to recognize the hard-working men and women who are ensuring New Brunswickers remain safe and secure during this emergency situation."