In less than a minute Calgary’s Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) can issue an emergency alert that can save lives.
But until now, CEMA’s Chief Tom Sampson’s message wouldn’t automatically be sent to smartphone devices.
When rising waters flooded southern Alberta in 2013, some were left out.
“There were people who didn’t get the messages,” Sampson told Global News. “Some people didn’t understand until the water was at their doorsteps.”
It was a similar story for residents of Fort McMurray in May of 2016. Alerts were issued, but only interrupted TV and radio broadcasts.
As of April 6, 2018, Canadians with most LTE devices will get those same warnings on their smartphones, in a form similar to text messages. Wireless public alerts have been tested by emergency agencies, and are mandatory across the country.
The National Public Alerting System — commonly called Alert Ready — will include wireless networks, in addition to traditional broadcast channels.
Alerts will sound, unless your device is muted or turned off, for events like natural disasters, extreme weather and terrorist attacks. The shrill, siren-like alarm tone is the same one that currently accompanies emergency broadcasts on radio and television.
“When we send a message, we want you to know it’s urgent. We want you to know it’s life-threatening, and the requirement for you is to take action,” Sampson said.
There are safeguards to prevent mistakes, like the missile alert the state of Hawaii sent in January.
Each province manages their own alerts, but all messages are funnelled to the national Alert Ready system, managed by Pelmorex.
WATCH: Smartphone emergency alert system
The technology will also be able to target specific areas within cities or provinces under threat.
“So they could even bring up a map and identify a specific neighbourhood, or perhaps a shopping mall that is where the threat is, and then send the message only to the phones being served in that specific area,” Pelmorex’s Paul Temple explained.
For those Canadians without LTE, there are public and private apps available for 3G and WIFI devices.
Alertable is just one you can install to make sure you’re not left out.
“Whether that’s best on the phone, best on social media, best by email, or voice message or radio and television, I think it’s a combination of all those things,” said Alertable’s Rick Arter.
Most LTE devices will work with the system, but officials say to check with your service provider as well as ensure you have the most current operating software.
Canada’s broadcast regulator, the CRTC, has said that wireless carriers will conduct one test of the system during the week of May 6.
— With files from The Canadian Press
Editor’s Note: This story was first published on April 2, and updated on April 6 with more information.