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Wireless emergency alerts coming to Alberta April 6

Alberta’s Emergency Alert System under scrutiny
WATCH ABOVE: Questions are being raised about how Alberta's Emergency Alert System works after a province wide alert was issued for a watermain break in Wetaskiwin. Kim Smith has more.

Beginning April 6 2018, a new emergency alert system that transmits messages directly to cell phones, whether people want the alerts or not, will be implemented in Alberta.

Emergency alerts about imminent threats to safety would go to all wireless devices in an affected area.

“We will be able to send alerts directly to peoples compatible smartphones and other devices without having them sign up or do anything,” Tim Trytten, with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA), said.

“If they’re in the area under threat, they’ll receive an emergency alert message.”

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READ MORE: Water supply stabilized after emergency alert in Wetaskiwin

The new wireless alerts will not require opt-in by cell service customers and the alerts would be transmitted to users regardless of their providers.

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“People generally live and breath on their smart phones, and so being able to reach them in a time of emergency is critical and this is the fastest way that we can do that,” Trytten said.

In April 2017, the CRTC directed service providers to implement wireless public alerting capability on their networks.

“This is a huge step in emergency alerting,” said Darryl Culley, president of Emergency Management & Training. His company has been providing services across the country for the past twenty years.

“Right now systems are dependent on you either having your radio on, or television on, or having [subscribed] to some sort of text based system.”

“Alberta and British Columbia have been the first to announce that it’s being rolled out. All of the provinces are working on their programs,” Culley said.

READ MORE: Could Canadian authorities accidentally send a false emergency alert to people’s phones? Not yet

Currently in Alberta, critical emergency alerts are broadcast on TV, radio, the internet, social media and the app. Alerts are sent out by municipalities and are specific to the area impacted.

Only compatible wireless devices will receive the alerts. A list of devices will be available under the Alberta section of www.AlertReady.ca  or your wireless service provider’s website.

According to Trytten there about 450 people in Alberta that can send out an emergency alert.

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Last year in Alberta, 16 critical alerts were sent out, including nine wildfire, six tornado and one amber alert.

“They’re a very rare event actually. Communities use it very cautiously. We’re quite pleased with that,” Trytten said.

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On Friday Jan. 26, Wetaskiwin sent out a critical alert after the city had water supply issues following a watermain break.

The critical alert only lasted 36 minutes but was broadcast on 32 TV and radio stations, including 630 CHED and Global Edmonton, which means people from Red Deer all the way north could have received the alert.

“This case, we will circle back and circle back to the users, make sure they understand the criteria and understand the impacts of what they did,” Trytten said.

“There’s a balance between using it appropriately and over or underusing it.”

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The Wetaskiwin Fire Chief said the critical alert was necessary due to the potential implications of a water shortage.

“It affected water supply to the whole city. It affected our firefighting capabilities,” Leigh Sawicki said. “For something that took place with a lack of water for a city of our size, I think it was a critical alert.”

“If we had a fire in the citywe have large rail traffic that runs through the city, we’ve had derailments in the city in the past. For us, having a lack of water or the potential lack of water could have been catastrophic.”

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