New Brunswick

Province hands over emergency alert responsibilities to RCMP

New Brunswick RCMP's J-Division has recently taken over responsibility from the province to issue amber and emergency alerts involving specific police-related matters.

RCMP will take over Amber Alerts and alerts involving police-related matters, like a dangerous person

Emergency alerts were issued by the province's Department of Justice and Public Safety, but have since been taken over by RCMP. (Aaron Amat/Shutterstock)

New Brunswick RCMP's J-Division has recently taken over responsibility from the province to issue Amber and emergency alerts involving specific police-related matters.

The alerts, which were previously handled by the province's Department of Justice and Public Safety, were taken over by RCMP over the summer.

"It will help police get critical and potentially life–saving information instructions to affected members of the public as quickly as possible," said Insp. Andrea Gallant, operations support and communications centre program manager with the RCMP's J-Division.

Alert Ready is Canada's emergency alerting system, which delivers critical and potentially life-saving alerts to New Brunswickers. The alerts are sent through text messages, radio and over television. 

But only a few members with the RCMP in Fredericton have access and training to send the alerts.

Only a small number of officers with the RCMP's J-Division know how to use the Alert Ready Emergency Alert System. (RCMP)

"The RCMP will issue such alerts on behalf of all police forces in New Brunswick," said Geoffrey Downey, a spokesperson for the province's Department of Safety, in an emailed statement to CBC News.

"NB EMO has been working with RCMP J-Division staff since May of this year to establish this capability for the RCMP."

Alerts can be sent for different kinds of threats to the public, including wildfires, natural disasters and radiological emergencies.

Alerts involving the RCMP could be related to a dangerous person. 

Plan was in the works before 911 service went down

Technical problems disrupted emergency phone lines and landlines throughout New Brunswick earlier this summer. But Gallant said the plan for RCMP to take over some of the responsibility was in the works before that.

That morning, New Brunswick RCMP said on Twitter that a public Alert Ready message had been requested to the province, but nothing was sent out before the 911 service was fixed.

"We didn't have that capacity at that time, it was still with EMO [Emergency Measures Organization]," she said. 

RCMP and other police services resorted to alternative emergency phone numbers during a phone outage in July. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Although Gallant couldn't share specifics, she said there is still certain criteria the RCMP needs to follow to send an alert. 

And if an interruption to 911 calls met with the RCMP's criteria to send an alert, Gallant said they would do so.   

"We have very specific criteria and policy on when we are allowed to send it."

RCMP relied on social media before alert system 

Before Canada launched its text-based national alert system in 2018, RCMP considered social media to be the best way to communicate during a crisis.

Reviews of the 2014 shootings in Moncton, N.B., and on Parliament Hill found that Twitter was a critical tool for disseminating real-time information to the public and media as both incidents were unfolding.

When a shooting broke out on Fredericton's north side on Aug. 10, 2018, the Fredericton Police Force also relied on Twitter to update the public on the events of that morning.

Mounties in Nova Scotia were under scrutiny for not issuing an emergency alert as a gunman shot 22 people in numerous locations in central and northern parts of the province. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

In a similar vein, Nova Scotia RCMP used Twitter to send out updates as a firearms complaint in the tiny coastal village of Portapique on the evening of April 18 evolved into a series of shooting and arson incidents across central and northern parts of the province.

It took Mounties in Nova Scotia 13 hours to craft an alert message before the gunman who shot 22 victims was fatally shot by police. 

Gallant said she's aware of the concerns raised about public communication during these particular incidents.

But she said an alert would be issued as soon as criteria was met and RCMP received accurate information.

"We have very good criteria and policies surrounding when and how to send the alerts and I'm quite confident in the RCMP's ability on the system."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

The Canadian Press

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