Canada implemented the upcoming Alert Ready emergency alert system on April 6, 2018, and leading up to the launch, wireless carriers started texting customers about emergency alerts. The cellphone compatible devices receive emergency alerts from the government Alert Ready service. Alerts notify you of possible life-threatening situation that need immediate attention to save you and your family.
In order for emergency alerts to be received on a wireless device, three conditions must be met. The wireless device must be:
- An LTE-device like a smartphone (LTE is commonly referred to as “4G LTE”)
- Wireless public alerting (WPA)-compatible
- Connected to an LTE cellular network at the time the emergency alert is issued.
A wireless device that is WPA-compatible is (1) an LTE-device, and (2) has special software embedded in it which allows for messages sent by your service provider, via Cell Broadcast, to be received in the standard Alert Ready format.
Emergency alerts that meet the Alert Ready format allow you to know when an alert is received (because of the sound and vibration), and also provides confirmation that it is issued by a legitimate sources.
Wireless service providers are required to distribute Emergency alerts to compatible smartphones that can access LTE (cellular) networks. Additional wireless devices – such as tablets and wearable accessories (e.g. smartwatches) – may be capable, from a technical perspective, to receive some form of the message, but it will not necessarily be received on the device in the Alert Ready format.
Alert is text but not a text
While the emergency alert may look like a text message it is not a text message.Emergency alerts are sent via Cell Broadcast distribution. Cell Broadcast is a mobile technology that allows messages to be broadcast to all compatible wireless devices within a designated geographical area. Cell Broadcast is designed for simultaneous message delivery to multiple users in a specified area, and is not affected by network congestion because it uses dedicated part of the network, separate from that used for traditional voice and data traffic.
Cell Broadcast can be compared to radio broadcast. Radio towers broadcast music to people in defined geographic areas as long as the individuals can pick-up the broadcast signal and have their radios turned on. Cell Broadcast messages similarly are delivered to those compatible wireless devices that are within range of cell towers and antennas in the designated area. Location services do not have to be enabled on your wireless device to be able to receive alerts.
Also remember that emergency alerts will not end or terminate a voice call or data session in progress. If you are on a voice-call when the emergency alert is received, you will be made aware of the alert by a notification tone (similar to call waiting). When your call terminates the alert will be displayed on your wireless device.
If you are on a data session, your session will continue but it may be briefly interrupted by the emergency alert appearing on your wireless device screen.
Also note that a compatible wireless device that is turned off will not display an emergency alert. If the emergency alert is still active when the wireless device is powered on, and the user is still in the alert area, the wireless device will then display the alert.
A compatible wireless device that is set to silent will display an emergency alert, but you might not hear the emergency alert sound. The emergency alert sound will usually play at whatever the current volume setting is on the wireless device, so if your wireless device is set to silent, no sound will accompany the emergency alert message. However, this behaviour can differ depending on your wireless device and in some instances the alert sound may override your user settings.
Test alert messages are intended to “test” the functionality of the system, and inform consumers of wireless emergency alerts, and do not require consumers to take steps to secure their safety.
You may be required to acknowledge receipt of the emergency alert in order to allow for your wireless device to resume normal functioning. In the event that you cannot acknowledge the alert, the alert sound and vibration will continue for 8 seconds. Depending on your specific wireless device, additional reminders may occur.
What action to take in case you receive this alert?
Upon receiving the emergency alert it is important to take action safely. Stop what you are doing when it is safe to do so and read the emergency alert. Alerting authorities will include, within the emergency alert, the information you need for any action you need to take. This could include but is not limited to: limit unnecessary travel, evacuate the areas, seek shelter, etc.
If you are driving, it is important to remain calm and pull over at your earliest opportunity to view the emergency alert.
Note that emergency alerts are issued to a defined geographic area, such that only people in the defined area will receive the emergency alerts. If you are travelling and happen to be in another province when an emergency alert is issued, your compatible wireless device will receive the emergency alert within seconds of being issued, provided your phone is powered on and connected to the LTE cellular network. There is no need to enable the location services on your wireless device to receive alerts.
Privacy and Cost
Wireless alerts are sent on a specific cellular channel that is separate from normal text and data traffic. While the alerts may look like text messages, they are not text messages and are not billed like text messages.
Also, emergency alerts are sent to wireless devices in a specific geographic area and do not require the phone numbers of those devices. As such there is no ability to identify or bill for the messages that are received.
Also emergency alerts are sent using Cell Broadcast distribution. Cell Broadcast can only transmit information to your wireless device. This means that no data is being gathered about you, your wireless device or your location when emergency alerts are sent out.
For more info and compatible devices, Bell Canada here
Rogers provided a list of current iPhone compatible devices: iPhone 5/5s/5c/6/6+/6s/6s+/7/7+/8/8+/X
Last year, on April 6, 2017, the CRTC mandated all wireless carriers in Canada to support the Alert Ready system, and provided a one year window to implement it. Former CRTC Chairman, Jean-Pierre Blais, said at the time, “The National Public Alerting System is vital to Canadians, it has saved countless lives, including those of children through Amber Alerts. Once the system is in place, an even greater number of Canadians will receive alerts on their mobile phones and will be able to take appropriate safety measures.”
Finally remember that you cannot opt out of this service.