The Alert Ready system allows notifying authorities from federal, provincial and territorial governments to issue a wide range of public safety messages directly to your mobile device.
Government officials developed and agreed on a specific list of alerts that are considered a threat-to-life and should be distributed immediately, interrupting radio and television broadcasts. These "Broadcast Immediately" emergency alerts have the highest level of severity, urgency and certainty and broadcasters and wireless service providers are required to relay these emergency alerts.
For a full list of alerts, visit the Alert Ready website. Issuing alerts outside of this list (for example heavy rainfall or blizzard warnings) is at the discretion of each of the broadcasters. Wireless service providers will only receive and relay messages that are issued for threat-to-life situations.
Federal, provincial, and territorial governments are responsible for issuing emergency alerts.
Federally, emergency alerts are issued most frequently by Environment and Climate Change Canada. Each provincial or territorial government decides who will have the authority to issue alerts within their jurisdictions. For example, emergency alerts could be issued by provincial or territorial emergency management offices or in some cases by municipal emergency management offices or local police and fire departments.
Media companies, including television, radio stations, cable and satellite distributors, as well as websites receive these emergency alerts and relay them to their consumers. As of April 6, 2018, wireless service providers are required to distribute emergency alerts received from alerting authorities directly to their consumers' compatible wireless devices connected to LTE networks using Cell Broadcast distribution.
Several factors determine if you will receive an emergency alert including:
The alerting authority determines what areas are affected by an incident, weather, or environmental situation, and uses a standard system that will typically correspond with municipal, regional, or provincial boundaries. The standardized system will allow participating radio, television, cable and satellite companies to broadcast the emergency alerts that are most relevant to the communities they serve.
You will receive an emergency alert on a wireless device within your defined geographic area, which can be as small as a few city blocks, so that only people in the defined area receive the emergency alerts.
You will not receive an emergency alert if your compatible phone is turned off or has Airplane Mode enabled. If the emergency alert is still active when your phone is powered back on, and you are still in the alert area, then the alert will display.
The emergency alert sound will play at whatever the current volume setting is on your phone, so if its set to silent, no sound will accompany the emergency alert message, but an alert will display. This behaviour can differ depending on your phone and in some instances the alert sound may override your user settings.
Cellular Towers and Antennas
Emergency alerts are broadcast from cellular towers and antennas within the area specified by the alert issuer. Compatible phones connected to the specified towers/antennas will receive the emergency alert. The towers/antennas therefore must be operational to send emergency alerts. If you are in an affected area but your phone is unable to connect to any towers/antennas because of the situation, you will not receive the emergency alert.
In order to receive emergency alerts your phone must be:
Additional wireless devices – such as tablets and wearable accessories (e.g. smartwatches) – may be capable of receiving messages via Cell Broadcast, but depending on device manufacturer and software, they may not be displayed in the Alert Ready format.
Alert Ready officially launched in Canada in 2014 with TV and radio broadcasters and is designed to deliver critical and potentially life-saving alerts to Canadians. Alerting on wireless phones is the newest part of Alert Ready, which launched in April 2018.
The first ever public wireless test messages issued during Emergency Preparedness Week in May 2018 revealed some technical challenges, all of which have since been addressed.
Since the addition of wireless alerts in April 2018, more than 100 emergency alerts and updates have been successfully transmitted nationally. These alerts have been credited with saving lives, as experienced with the Ottawa/Gatineau tornadoes on September 21, 2018.
All industry partners have agreed to a regular testing schedule for the Alert Ready system. Regularly testing and evaluating these systems and processes helps to ensure that in times of an emergency or disaster, we are prepared to deliver urgent and lifesaving warnings to the public.
Building a safe and reliable public alerting system in Canada is a responsibility shared by all levels of government and all industry partners alike.
Ongoing testing allows for continuous improvement on the effectiveness of this important safety system for all Canadians.
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 any and all compatible wireless devices that are within range of cell towers and antennae in 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 a dedicated part of the network, separate from regular voice and data traffic.
Not all Canadians will receive the test alert on their mobile device. This may occur for a variety of reasons:
Test alert messages will be identified as such. These messages are intended to test the functionality of the system, and inform you of wireless emergency alerts, and do not require that you to take steps to secure your safety.
You may be required to acknowledge receipt of the emergency alert in order to allow for your wireless device to resume normal functioning. If 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.
Can I opt out of receiving emergency alerts on my phone?
No. Government regulations mandate that all compatible wireless devices receive all relevant alerts.
Unlike radio and television broadcasting, which often have broad areas of coverage; wireless public alerting is geo-targeted and can be limited to a specific area.
Will emergency alerts interrupt or end a voice-call or another activity in progress?
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, the emergency alert will be briefly by the emergency alert appearing on your phone.
Will I receive emergency alerts on my phone if I'm travelling to, or from another province or jurisdiction within Canada?
Yes. Emergency alerts are issued to a defined geographic area, so only people in the defined area will receive the 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 an LTE network.
Canadians can keep track of emergency alerts occurring in specific areas (e.g. where they or other family members live) through several available apps and online services.
Will I receive an emergency alert if my phone is connected to WiFi?
While on WiFi, if your phone can still connect to an LTE cellular network, it will receive emergency alerts. If the phone is not within reach of the LTE cellular network (or is set to WiFi only) it will not receive an emergency alert.
Will I be charged if I receive an emergency alert on my wireless device if I don't have unlimited texting or data within my mobile plan?
Wireless emergency 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. Since the alerts are sent to wireless devices in a specific geographic area, they do not require the phone numbers of those devices, which means there is no ability to identify or bill for the messages that are received.
What should I do if I receive an emergency 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. Government officials 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 area(s), seek shelter, etc.
If my phone is off for an extended period of time, will the emergency alert appear once I turn my phone back on?
If the emergency alert is still active when you turn your phone back on, and you are within the emergency alert area, the emergency alert will be displayed. If the emergency alert is no longer active or if you have traveled outside of the alert area, it will not be displayed.
Will emergency alerts sent to my wireless device be used to gather data about me?
No. 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.