Here's why you shouldn't phone 911 if it's not an emergency

Early Tuesday morning, cell phones across Ontario started to buzz and vibrate to let the public know of an Amber Alert.

Sudbury police say they received calls that Tuesday’s Amber Alert woke people up

Early Tuesday morning, cell phones across Ontario started to buzz and vibrate to let the public know of an Amber Alert.

Police were searching for a missing three-year-old Sudbury boy and his mother. A few hours after the alert was sent out, they were found safe in Toronto.

But in the meantime, some people took to social media to complain the alert woke them up, or question why it was issued in the first place. Others took it a step further and called 911 to complain.

The manager of emergency communications with Greater Sudbury Police Services, Craig Maki, says between 15 and 20 calls were received in Sudbury about the Amber Alert being sent out.

"Unfortunately, people decided to call us to complain they were woken up in the middle of the night," he said.

When is an Amber Alert issued?

Certain criteria needs to be in place for an Amber Alert to be issued. According to Sudbury police, that criteria may include the child being under the age of 18, a belief that the child has been abducted, information available that may locate the child and/or abductor and that the alert is issued in a reasonable amount of time from the moment of abduction.

Amber Alerts are provincially operated and are sent out through the Alert Ready emergency alert system, according to The alerts are sent to cell phones and are broadcast on radio and television.

The alerts include a description of the child and potential abductor, as well as any key information about a vehicle or transportation that may be used.

What happens if people phone 911 to complain?

Maki says non-urgent calls can cause problems for people in an emergency.

"What people don't recognize is that when you're tying up a 911 communicator to complain because you lost some sleep, you're actually precluding potentially someone else from getting through," he said.

Sudbury police say if you phone 911 and it's not an emergency, you could be tying up resources for other people who need help. (Nicole Williams/CBC)

Maki says if someone in the dispatch centre receives a call from someone upset about an alert waking them up, they will explain why the alert was issued in the first place.

"Just let people know the importance of trying to find this child," he said.

"Hopefully by doing that people will understand and take away a different perspective after the phone call."

When should I phone 911?

Maki says the only reason you should phone 911 is one reason: an emergency.

"It's not a 911 call when you're calling to complain about something," he said.

"It's a life-threatening emergency. That's what 911 is designed for, not to complain that you got woken up in the middle of the night."

What if I don't want to get these alerts?

Unfortunately, opting out at this time isn't an option, according to the Alert Ready Emergency Alert System.

However, it suggests you make changes to your cell phone if you don't want an alert to be disruptive.

"A compatible wireless device that is set to silent will display an emergency alert but will not play the alert tone," the group stated.

"The emergency sound alert will usually play at whatever the current volume setting is on the wireless device."

With files from Angela Gemmill


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