If all goes according to plan, Manitobans will get an emergency alert test message on their phones at 1:55 p.m.
People in ten provinces and territories will receive the test message Wednesday; that is, if the system works.
Canada’s Alert Ready system recently added wireless alerts to its arsenal of delivery methods, on top of television and radio broadcasts.
But on Monday, residents of Quebec never received the test message, and in Ontario, only some people got the test alert.
“A space incorrectly included in the coding prevented the Alert Ready system from sending the Quebec test message to compatible wireless devices,” a statement on Alert Ready’s website said. “The purpose of a test alert is to comprehensively verify all system components so that in the case of a real threat to life situation, there is confidence the emergency alerts will be distributed successfully. The misconfiguration was quickly corrected.”
The alerts are not sent out via text message or SMS, but via cell broadcast technology by a corporation called Pelmorex. That means that the messages can’t be tracked by service providers, so they can’t tell which customers got the alert.
The company has had two days to figure out what went wrong in Ontario and Quebec to make sure it doesn’t happen again in other markets. In Manitoba, Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler is hopeful things will go according to plan.
“We do things better in Manitoba, but I would point out that’s why you do a test, right?” Schuler said. “We’re cautiously optimistic that it’s going to work. We’re assured that it’s going to go as planned, and if it doesn’t, we’ll take another run at it and test it again because this is a really important addition to what we already do with radio and television.”
If the roll-out does go according to plan, as long as your phone is on (and not on silent mode), you will get the message, your phone will vibrate and you will hear the unmistakable alert tone.
“The message will say ‘This is a test’ in both official languages, and will explain to you what the test means,” Schuler explained. “From here on in, hopefully this will work, and then it just gives us one other way to get a hold of individuals. It’s very nice because we can do it by region in the province, we can get to people quicker. If you’re around that cell tower in that region, we can communicate with you a lot better than just putting it on radio and TV, which we would be doing anyway.”
Schuler said that in most situations that would merit an emergency alert, such as extreme flooding, a blizzard, an Amber Alert or a tornado, you should still turn on your radio or TV, especially if you live in an area with spotty cell service.
“Those individuals, by and large, know. They have other systems in place, this is just over and above those services that we use. When you see incredibly dark clouds coming your way or you see a lot of smoke in the sky, turn on your radio, and you will hear what’s going on.”
A similar alert system is used in the US, which made international headlines last year when a false missile alert terrified Hawaii residents. Schuler wants to assure Manitobans that something similar won’t happen here.
“Our system is set up in such a way that it takes multiple steps to be able to get into it. Each time it prompts you, ‘Are you sure you wish to proceed?’ You can’t just log in and just make a joke about something, and it’s already broadcasting. It asks again for another password, it’s not a one-and-done. It’s a lot more foolproof than what we saw in Hawaii. But it’s a very quick process, and there’s always someone 24/7 who has a phone with them, that has the authority to issue one of those broadcasts.”