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Get ready, Canada: Another test of emergency public alert system is coming to a screen or device near you

Canadians across the country, except for those living in Nunavut, can expect to have their Wednesday interrupted by an emergency public alert that will be broadcast on television and radio and sent to compatible mobile devices as part of a nationwide test of the system.

Time of test varies depending on province; Nunavut will not be included

A test emergency alert will be broadcast to TVs, radios and mobile devices across Canada Wednesday. For a wireless device to receive a test alert, it must be connected to an LTE or newer wireless network (5G) and meet other standards. (Bruce Tilley/CBC)

Canadians across the country, except for those living in Nunavut, can expect to have their Wednesday interrupted by an emergency public alert that will be broadcast on television and radio and sent to compatible mobile devices as part of a nationwide test of the system.

The exact time of the test will vary depending on the province or territory, according to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The alerts are intended to warn Canadians of potentially life-threatening situations.

"The messages will be identified as test alerts and will not require Canadians to take action," the CRTC said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Testing the national public alerting system is aimed at checking performance and reliability "to ensure it operates as intended in the event of a life-threatening situation," the statement said.

The times will be as follows:

  • Alberta: 1:55 p.m. (MT).                  

  • British Columbia: 1:55 p.m. (PT).     

  • Manitoba: 1:55 p.m. (CST).              

  • New Brunswick: 10:55 a.m. (AT).

  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 10:55 a.m. (NT).

  • Northwest Territories: 9:55 a.m. (MT). 

  • Nova Scotia: 1:55 p.m. (AT).

  • Ontario: 12:55 p.m. (ET).                

  • Prince Edward Island: 12:55 p.m. (AT). 

  • Quebec: 1:55 p.m. (ET).            

  • Saskatchewan: 1:55 p.m. (CST).     

  • Yukon: 1:55 p.m. (MT).

For a wireless device to receive a test alert, it must be:

  • Connected to an LTE wireless or a newer wireless network (5G).

  • Wireless public alerting (WPA) compatible.

  • Equipped with a recent Canadian version of its operating software.

If a mobile device meets these conditions and does not receive the test, the CRTC encourages Canadians to contact their service provider.

Testing of the alert system dates back to the spring of 2018, and it hasn't always gone smoothly.

The system was supposed to be fully operational nationwide under regulator orders by April 6, 2018. But the first test in Quebec didn't sound at all, and a similar test in Ontario came up short as many wireless subscribers didn't receive the test.

However, the commission says since January 2019, hundreds of emergency alert messages have been successfully transmitted by emergency management officials.

Over the summer, Ontario Provincial Police investigators used the system to alert Lanark County residents that an "armed and dangerous" suspect was on the lam after a body was found in a motel room.

That alert came three months after a Nova Scotia denturist went on a shooting rampage in Portapique, N.S., killing 22 people. The RCMP came under heavy criticism for not using the system and opting instead to warn the public through social media.

More recently, some questioned the fact that Quebec City police used Twitter instead of the alert system or other techniques to warn the population about a sword-wielding individual roaming the provincial capital's historic sector on Halloween night. 

The technology is available in Quebec, via the Public Security Ministry's operations centre, but Quebec City police elected not to use it.

A spokesperson for the Quebec City police service said police didn't use the alert system because they had quickly controlled the situation and that the technology "is still new in terms of its use by police organizations."

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