Ottawa

Emergency alert worked 'perfectly' during tornado warning says operator

The operators of the new cellphone emergency alert system say it responded "perfectly" to the tornado warning issued for parts of Ottawa Wednesday, but dozens of people didn't get the message.

Many Ottawa residents say they didn't get the alert

Storm clouds were gathering over the region on Wednesday afternoon. (Dan Mellon/Twitter)

The operators of the new cellphone emergency alert system say it responded "perfectly" to the tornado warning issued for parts of Ottawa Wednesday, but dozens of people didn't get the message. 

The tornado warning was issued around 5:40 p.m. by Environment Canada for the Kanata, Ottawa North and Orléans areas. The threat quickly subsided just 30 minutes later, and was followed by a thunderstorm warning.

For the first time, since its implementation in April 2018, the emergency cellphone alert system kicked in to respond to an extreme weather condition. 

"The alert was received from Environment Canada and processed and distributed through our system, validated and [then] sent out in a matter of seconds," said Kurt Eby, a director at Pelmorex, the company that operates the alert system.

"So from our standpoint it went perfectly."

An emergency alert was pushed through to people's phones after a tornado warning was issued for Kanata, Ottawa and Orléans on Aug. 1, 2018. (CBC)

'It's a one way broadcast'

Several Ottawa residents, however, are reporting on social media that they did not receive a text — some reports even came from people living in areas specifically addressed by the warning. 

Eby said Thursday there are various reasons why some people may not have received the alert. 

The texts are sent out from cellphone towers, in the affected areas identified by Environment Canada, and they are then received by any cellphones connected to them through wireless providers, he said. 

"It's a one way broadcast, we don't know how many people received it, there is no way to know," Eby said.

The alert distribution area of a cellphone, he added, is smaller and more concentrated than television or radio broadcasts, which can cover larger areas.   

"If you received a message on your wireless device that means you are right in the area that has been highlighted," Eby said.

"It allows us to let these people know they [are in an] area where there is a severe risk of a tornado, in this case, and that they need to find shelter."

Cellphone compatibility 

The other reason why some people may have not received an alert is because some phones are not compatible, do not have LTE capability or do no have the right updated software, he said. 

"We receive the message from the issuer, we process it, validate it, make sure everything is filled out properly," Eby said.

"We make it available, it's then picked up by the wireless providers and their networks are set up to handle these messages [for distribution]."

It's important for cellphone users to visit the Alert Ready website, he said, to learn which cell phones with wireless providers are compatible. 

"If someone didn't receive [the alert but] they were close to or right beside someone who did, that much more coverage, compared to previously when it was just T.V. and radio only, is really fantastic in getting that critical message out there," he said. 

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