Glitches reported as emergency alert testing resumes across Canada

Operators of Canada's new emergency alert system say they are learning from failed tests earlier this week in Ontario and Quebec, although reports of countrywide tests on Wednesday had mixed results.

The same problems that affected Ontario on Monday are being seen across the country as tests continue

An emergency alert was sent to millions of Canadians on Wednesday, but not everyone received the message. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

Operators of Canada's new emergency alert system say they are learning from failed tests earlier this week in Ontario and Quebec, although reports of countrywide tests on Wednesday had mixed results.

Alert Ready officials say they are working to resolve glitches in the system following problems in Quebec and Ontario on Monday. 

The company behind the system said the first alert test on Wednesday in Newfoundland and Labrador worked. 

"Wireless service providers have verified that the test message was successfully distributed across their LTE wireless networks in the province," reads an emailed statement sent on behalf of Pelmorex.

The alert, however, was a few minutes late and anecdotal reports suggest it might not have reached all users. 

A spokesperson for the provincial ministry in charge of overseeing the alert told CBC News the delay was due to a "minor adjustment to the program shortly before the scheduled test time of 1:55 p.m." made by Pelmorex, the company that operates the alert system.​

Ngai said the tests in Nova Scotia and P.E.I. were also successful.

The Alberta Emergency Management agency said in a statement that the agency is working with the federal government, wireless service providers and Pelmorex to review the results of the test "to understand what happened across the country and what can be done to strengthen the system before a real emergency takes place."

Widespread reports of problems

Across the country, anecdotal reports suggest the system might not be working properly. 

In Calgary, a survey of the CBC newsroom showed some received the alert, while others did not. Those who did not receive the notifications were using phones linked to participating service providers and linked to an LTE network as required. 

Likewise, reporters in Manitoba had mixed results with their phones. 

In the Northwest Territories, some residents contacted by CBC received alerts, but many didn't, including multiple staff members at CBC in Yellowknife and Inuvik. This included a variety of generations, models and brands of smartphones.

In some cases, CBC phones with LTE enabled did not receive the alert in Yellowknife. Most LTE-enabled CBC iPhones which did not receive the alert did not have the latest software version installed.

Canadians can check if their phones are compatible with the emergency alert system on the Alert Ready website

Twitter lit up with those who didn't get a notification. 

Tom Sampson, chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, said at a news conference Wednesday he's heard anecdotally that 50 per cent of people received the alert, and that it seems to be somewhat random as to whose phone received it — not necessarily tied to whether or not a phone was connected to Wi-Fi, or related to the phone's service provider.

"This is why we run tests. I had expected the number would have been higher, but I still say it's a success," he said. 

"The alert did work. It worked, it went out, it didn't go to every phone. That's the issue right now." 

For those who didn't receive the alert, Sampson said that there are plenty of other ways to reach people in emergency situations, including the capacity to interrupt radio and TV broadcasts and through social media. 

He also suggested that Canadians download the emergency alert app for their region to ensure they don't miss any messaging. 

Ontario, Quebec glitches

On Monday, mobile users in Ontario and Quebec were supposed to receive alerts on their devices as part of a test of the regulator-mandated warning system, which was to be fully in place by April 6.

No alerts were registered on devices in Quebec, while only some mobile subscribers in Ontario received the signal.

System operators blamed the Quebec malfunction on a computer coding error and were still investigating what went wrong in Ontario.

Test signals are also expected to sound on radio and TV stations today in provinces and territories outside of Ontario and Quebec, except Nunavut.

Alert Ready to send emergency messages to smartphones

5 years ago
Duration 1:47
Alert Ready, the national emergency system that already sends alerts to television and radio, will soon be sending them to mobile phones too.

"Alert Ready tests planned for Wednesday will proceed as scheduled," system officials said in an email prior to the start of testing. "Alert Ready partners have been actively working to resolve identified issues."

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ordered wireless providers to implement the system to distribute warnings of imminent safety threats, such as tornadoes, floods, Amber Alerts or terrorist threats.

Here are the times for tests scheduled for today. All times are local:

  • Yukon 1:30 p.m.
  • Northwest Territories 1:55 p.m.
  • Alberta 1:55 p.m.
  • British Columbia 1:55 p.m.
  • Saskatchewan 1:55 p.m.
  • Manitoba 1:55 p.m.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador 1:55 p.m.
  • Nova Scotia 1:55 p.m.
  • Prince Edward Island 1:55 p.m.
  • New Brunswick 6:55 p.m.

With files from The Canadian Press