During a public emergency, timely information is crucial. Fortunately in this age of digital technology, it’s easier than it has ever been to get information out quickly and broadly.
Later this week, the country’s National Public Alerting System will take further advantage of the technology by bringing telecom providers on board. The system, also known as Alert Ready, will start using telecom providers to deliver emergency notifications to users via their networks.
The move stands to improve Canada’s national warning system, which in the past has relied on radio and television networks to get the word out to citizens in the event of emergencies. Starting Friday, wireless networks will become part of the system.
The change will assist officials in helping citizens during major emergencies by allowing localized alerts to be sent to compatible phones. The alerts will include a siren-like alarm — the same one which accompanies radio and TV emergency alerts — and display a bilingual text warning providing details about the emergency. Rogers Communications says the alerts will be “geo-targeted,” meaning they will only be sent to people who are likely to be affected by the emergency.
People won’t be able to opt out of the wireless alert system. The CRTC is of the opinion that the alerts are too important to be optional, and that makes sense. The Alert Ready website says people won’t be billed for the alerts they receive, so there’s no good reason to opt out. The alerts are designed to protect people, and perhaps even save their lives. Of course, the system will only work if a person’s smartphone is turned on and is not set on mute.
There’s a number of different scenarios that will prompt such alerts (a detailed list can be found online at alertready.ca). The situations include fire (such as widespread industrial blazes or forest fires), natural disasters (including earthquakes and severe weather), biological (serious air or water contamination), terrorist threat, or civil emergency (for example, danger posed by an animal or an Amber Alert for a missing child). Alerts could also be issued in the case of a disruption or outage for 911 services.
This coming change to the Alert Ready system is a welcome enhancement that will serve citizens well by ensuring more people will receive necessary information when emergencies like those in the above list occur. Radio and television alerts reach those who happen to be tuned in at the time, but with the prevalence of smartphones in today’s world, the addition of wireless alerts is sure to produce a dramatic expansion in the number of people who can receive the necessary warnings when they need them.
That’s important because when a major emergency strikes, time can be of the essence, and the ability to get vital information to people quickly can prevent injuries and save lives.
And that’s just what a national public warning system should do.