The technology exists to fix some of the design flaws in Canada’s mobile emergency alert system that was tested last week for an Amber Alert issued in Ontario, some experts say. A smartphone and a television receive visual and audio alerts to test Alert Ready, a national public alert system, in Montreal on Monday, May 7, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

The technology exists to fix some of the design flaws in Canada’s mobile emergency alert system that was tested last week for an Amber Alert issued in Ontario, some experts say. A smartphone and a television receive visual and audio alerts to test Alert Ready, a national public alert system, in Montreal on Monday, May 7, 2018.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Changes needed for ‘Alert Ready’ mass emergency system

‘You need to strike this careful balance between alerting people to lots of problems — and doing it too often’

The technology exists to fix some of the design flaws in Canada’s mobile emergency alert system that was tested last week for an Amber Alert issued in Ontario, some experts say.

The ”Alert Ready” program — which sounds an alarm on LTE-connected smart phones during a crisis — could be more effective at alerting people to emergencies, they said.

“The approach we’re taking with mobile devices is the same we had in 1940, when we had sirens installed on buildings,” said Cosmin Munteanu, a professor of computer science and information at the University of Toronto.

“There’s no nuance involved.”

He said that because of smart phone technology, designers had the opportunity to cater details of the alarm — its sound, the colour that pops up on the screen — to the emergency it’s alerting people to.

Munteanu said that with the system as it is now, people who hear the blaring alarm associated with these emergency alerts for a missing child but don’t have an opportunity to read the text for some reason might believe they’re in imminent danger.

And in fact, several police forces in Ontario received complaints from members of the public last week when an alarm sounded on cell phones to announce an Amber Alert triggered by the disappearance of a boy outside of Thunder Bay, Ont.

Half an hour later, the sound rang out again. This time, the text of the alert was displayed in French. It would go off two more times — once in each official language — that day to announce the child was found safe.

Officers in two Ontario cities — Kingston and Guelph — tweeted that it was not appropriate to call 911 about the matter.

The incident left some questioning the inclusion of Amber Alerts in the mobile emergency system, which has no opt-out option in Canada, as mandated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

“If somebody in Toronto is alerted to an abducted child or a missing child in Thunder Bay, they can’t help,” said John Rainford, director of The Warning Project, founded by a group of experts who help organizations communicate during emergencies.

“But then also, that person in Toronto is like, ‘Okay, next time my phone rings in this weird sound, I don’t care,’” he said. “And I want them to care.”

A similar system exists in the United States, but people can choose not to receive notifications about Amber Alerts or local emergencies by modifying settings on their cell phones. They cannot, however, opt out of receiving directives from the White House.

It becomes a balancing act for authorities, he said.

“You need to strike this careful balance between alerting people to lots of problems — which is a good thing because then they’re aware that if that weird sound comes over my smart phone, that means something weird’s happening — and doing it too often.”

But Rainford said it’s a good thing that these kinks are happening now, before the masses need to be informed of a crisis on a larger scale.

“That’s actually part of the system,” he said. “You want to do that when (more) lives are not at stake.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A peacock struts by a pair of lamb siblings at the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, which remains closed to the public. (Don Descoteau/News Staff)
VIDEO: Victoria petting zoo optimistic about future after 13 months closed

Public helps non-profit Beacon Hill Children’s Farm with nearly $100,000 influx

Island Health declared a COVID-19 outbreak in two houses at the Mount St. Mary long-term care home on Wednesday. (Photo courtesy of Google Earth)
Island Health declares outbreak at Victoria long-term care home

Resident, staff member test positive for COVID-19 at Mount St. Mary facility

Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus is putting a 41-passenger electric bus through its paces in a three-month trial run between Nanaimo and Victoria. (Photo submitted)
Electric bus on trial run serving Victoria-to-Nanaimo route

Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus trying out 41-seat electric coach for three months

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is helping Saanich police locate a suspect who allegedly stole an iPhone from a building in the 3100-block of Foul Bay Road on April 7. (Image via the Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers)
Saanich police seek suspect in cell phone theft

White iPhone XR reported stolen from building on Foul Bay Road April 7

Victoria police are looking for a 38-year-old man after he allegedly assaulted and choked a missing 15-year-old victim in Beacon Hill Park Tuesday night. (Black Press Media file photo)
15-year-old choked in Beacon Hill tent, Victoria police assaulted while intervening

Police searching for 38-year-old suspect, two officers injured in altercation with park residents

A large crowd protested against COVID-19 measures at Sunset Beach in Vancouver on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Snapchat)
VIDEO: Large, police-patrolled crowds gather at Vancouver beach for COVID protests

Vancouver police said they patrolled the area and monitored all gatherings

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
An Island girl’s wish is answered as her cat came back

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

FILE – The Instagram app is shown on an iPhone in Toronto on Monday, March 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
Judge acquits B.C. teen boy ‘set up’ on sex assault charge based on Instagram messages

The girl and her friends did not have ‘good intentions’ towards the accused, judge says

Kai Palkeinen recently helped a car stuck on the riverbed near the Big Eddy Bridge. While the car could not be saved, some of the driver’s belongings were. It’s common for vehicles to get stuck in the area due to significantly changing river levels from Revelstoke Dam. (Photo by Kai Palkeinen)
“I just sank a car’: Revelstoke resident tries to save vehicle from the Columbia River

Although it’s not permitted, the riverbed near the city is popular for off roading

Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Huawei, walks down the street with an acquaintance after leaving B.C. Supreme Court during a lunch break at her extradition hearing, in Vancouver, B.C., Thursday, April 1, 2021. A judge is scheduled to release her decision today on a request to delay the final leg of hearings in Meng Wanzhou’s extradition case. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rich Lam
B.C. judge grants Meng Wanzhou’s request to delay extradition hearings

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general had argued there is no justification to delay proceedings in the case

B.C. Premier John Horgan announces travel restrictions between the province’s regional health authorities at the legislature, April 19, 2021. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sees 862 more COVID-19 cases Wednesday, seven deaths

Recreational travel restrictions set to begin Friday

Most Read