Canada’s new National Public Alerting System launches today

Apr 6 2018, 9:03 pm

On Friday, the federal government launched the National Public Alerting System.

The wireless emergency alerts will enable Canadians to receive instant messages on compatible wireless devices like smartphones starting April 6.

The National Public Alerting System (NPAS), publicly branded as Alert Ready, is a collaborative initiative between Federal-Provincial-Territorial governments and industry partners.

“When an emergency occurs, Canadians need to know right away. By adding smartphones to our emergency alert system, we will be able to reach more Canadians, faster, in times of crisis,” said Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, in a statement.

“Wireless alerts will also allow us to issue more geographically targeted alerts. The safety of Canadians is our highest priority, and I’m proud that we’ve worked with all partners to make this capability a reality.”

The system “provides a standard alerting capability to rapidly warn the public of imminent or unfolding hazards to life.” Examples of the types of alerts that are issued through the Alert Ready system include natural disasters like tornados and earthquakes, or a civil emergency like Amber Alerts.

Alert Ready

So what is Alert Ready and how does it work?

Alert Ready is designed to deliver critical and potentially life-saving alerts to Canadians through television and radio. It will also include a system that delivers messages to Canadians directly.

While the emergency alert may look like a text message it is not a text message. Emergency alerts are sent via cell broadcast distribution, which is a mobile technology that allows messages to be broadcast to all compatible wireless devices within a designated geographical area. It is designed for simultaneous message delivery to multiple users in a specified area, and is not affected by network congestion because it uses dedicated part of the network, separate from that used for common voice and data traffic.

Cell Broadcast can be compared to a radio broadcast.

Are all wireless devices programmed to receive emergency alerts?

No. According to Alert Ready, in order for emergency alerts to be received on a wireless device three conditions must be met.

The wireless device must be:

  • An LTE-device like a smartphone (LTE is commonly referred to as “4G LTE”);
  • Wireless public alerting (WPA)-compatible; and
  • Connected to an LTE cellular network at the time the emergency alert is issued.

What should you do if you receive an emergency alert?

There will be test alerts, and those will be marked as such.

Upon receiving an actual emergency alert, it is important to take action safely. Authorities recommend stopping what you are doing when it is safe to do so and read the emergency alert. Alerting authorities will include, within the emergency alert, the information you need for any actions required. This could include but is not limited to: limit unnecessary travel, evacuate the areas, seek shelter, etc.

Will you be charged if you receive an emergency alert?

The answer is no. Wireless alerts are sent on a specific cellular channel that is separate from normal text and data traffic. While the alerts may look like text messages, they are not text messages and are not billed like text messages.

Can you opt out of receiving emergency alerts?

Also a no.

Emergency alerts received on your phones are relevant to you, require immediate attention, and government regulations mandate that all compatible wireless devices receive all relevant alerts.

Unlike radio and television broadcasting, which often has broad areas of coverage, wireless public alerting is geo-targeted, can be very specific to a limited area of coverage, and according to Alert Ready, this means if an emergency alert reaches your wireless device, you are located in an area where there is an imminent danger.

When is Alert Ready’s next test alert going out?

There is a test alert schedule online, and is broken down by province. Most have an alert test scheduled in May. Exact dates are can be found on the Alert Ready website.

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