Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Failings of Canada's Emergency Alert System

Alert Ready
Canada has launched a new emergency alert system to notify their citizens of important information. The problem is, instead of using it as an opportunity to build a new and better system suited for the digital age, they've recreated the decades old system already existing in the US.

Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I'm not against the alert system. There's a lot of value in building something this important based on a system that's been reliably operating for a long time. But there are a number of problems and missed opportunities.

What is it?

Essentially, it's a system that allows information regarding "threat-to-life" or "threat-to-property" situations to interrupt normal programming on TV and Radio. (Although media is allowed to broadcast alerts with their own staff on their own schedules instead of interrupting programming immediately.) While many notices are sent out daily, only the most important events are flagged to interrupt service. Extra content, like press releases, pictures and maps, can be included in these alerts for news staff to manually upload to websites or push to social media.

There are plenty of situations it's been designed for, such as:
  • Weather emergencies from a tornado or flood.
  • Man-made disasters like a plant failure, chemical spill or train carrying dangerous goods.
  • Amber Alerts.