New cellphone emergency alert system goes online Friday

On Friday, compatible wireless devices on LTE networks in Manitoba will be able to receive messages from the Alert Ready national public alerting system.

New system reflects changes in ways people use technology, Manitoba infrastructure minister says

Local Caption Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler says Canada's new cellphone-based alert system reflects changes in the ways ways people use technology today. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Manitobans will soon be able to receive emergency alerts via their cellphones.

On Friday, compatible wireless devices on LTE networks in Manitoba, like the rest of Canada, will be able to receive messages from the Alert Ready national public alerting system.

"This is where society is going. Others are slightly ahead of us on this one," said Manitoba Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler.

"It was time for Canada to get going on this and this is now going to be across the country, and good on Canada to get on this."

The alerts begin with a distinct sound and vibration, followed by an emergency alert banner and then the message.

The current system sends out alerts via radio, cable, satellite TV and web feeds.

Schuler said the new system reflects changes in the ways ways people use technology today.

"A lot of people don't have an actual [landline] phone in their home — we don't. A lot of people don't even have cable in their home, radios aren't as common either, but everybody has a cellphone and it would give them some means," he said.

The Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization and Environment and Climate Change Canada are authorized to send out alerts in Manitoba.

Alerts could be sent about weather-related events, transportation disasters such as train derailments, or about a missing child, Schuler said.

Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth said the new system will help law enforcement officials.

"This is just leveraging technology to get the message to a broader audience. So I think it's a real positive step to be able to reach a larger mass," Smyth said.

Test message May 9

A test message is scheduled to be sent to wireless devices in Manitoba on May 9 at 1:55 p.m.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission gave wireless providers a year to implement the system with a deadline of April 6 to be ready to go live. A report by the CRTC said most wireless providers were in favour of an opt-out option or the ability to disable the alarm for some types of alerts, but consumers can't turn off the warnings.

If a phone is turned off or muted, however, the alert will not sound.

The mobile alert system is administered by Pelmorex Corp., the parent company of the Weather Network.

With files from The Canadian Press