More research needed to determine if alert fatigue is true, says prof

Wireless emergency alerts have launched in the U.S. for a few years, while they've been in place since last April in Canada.

Hamilton Bean weighs in on how the Canadian wireless alerts system works

An Amber Alert was issued at 11:36 p.m. ET but cancelled after officers found Riya Rajkumar's body.

Even though the American wireless emergency alert system has been in place for a few years, it's not without its problems, according to one researcher.

For one, only about 75 per cent of people get alerts out of the ones who are eligible to receive them, said Hamilton Bean, an associate professor who studies wireless emergency alerts at the University of Colorado Denver.

There can also be confusion about just how imminent certain threats are. For example, if a fire breaks out in one end of the county and you live on the other end, are you in danger?

"It is a debate here. How many alerts are too many?" said Bean.

"More research needs to be conducted to find out if alert fatigue is truly an issue, or if it's just people's perception."

Dr. Hamilton Bean says people have the option to turn off certain emergency alerts in the U.S., with the exception of presidential alerts. (Submitted by Hamilton Bean)

Late Thursday night, an Ontario-wide Amber Alert was issued for missing 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar. Then about an hour later, another Amber Alert was issued when they found the girl's body in her father's Brampton apartment.

The second alert drew complaints from some people after they were woken up. Peel Regional Police officer Akhil Mooken said the dispatch centre received many 911 calls from people complaining.

Some people complained about the fact the double Amber Alerts were both sent province-wide. However, Staff Sgt. Stacey Whaley with Ontario Provincial Police said that's the only option.

"There's no way to segregate areas of the province," he said.

Since the system launched in April last year, Whaley said there have only been two cases in Ontario where Amber Alerts were issued via cell phones — including Thursday's.

It's discouraging to him that people are calling 911 about the alerts because "it's uncalled for," he said.

Tap the player below to hear Hamilton Bean's conversation with Afternoon Drive's Chris dela Torre.

So far there hasn't been any discussion about perhaps changing the tones of these alerts so they are less alarming for certain people, according to Bean.

But it's important to have that second alert to notify people that the emergency is no longer in place, he said. It's also good that Canada seems to be conducting regular testing of the system, unlike in the U.S., he said.

However, there is one area that Bean thinks warrants more attention.

"I do worry a little bit about the situation in Canada where Amber Alerts are conflated with imminent threat alerts."

With files from Jonathan Pinto and Jeanne Armstrong


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