The National Public Alerting System (French: Système national d'alertes à la population), branded as Alert Ready (French: En Alerte), is the national warning system in Canada. The system consists of infrastructure and standards for the presentation and distribution of public alerts issued by government authorities (including Environment and Climate Change Canada and other provincial public safety agencies), such as weather emergencies, AMBER Alerts, and other emergency notifications, across all television stations, radio stations, and broadcast distribution undertakings in the affected region.
The system is based upon the Common Alerting Protocol, and uses the National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination system (NAAD) operated by Pelmorex Media as its backend for distributing alerts to broadcasters, in consort with a style guide that dictates when and how alerts are to be broadcast.
In development since 2010, the system officially launched on March 31, 2015; the system is legally backed by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), who enacted a mandate in August 2014 for all broadcasters and broadcast distribution undertakings in Canada to relay emergency messages that are distributed through NAAD as of that date. Beginning April 6, 2018, wireless providers will also be required to participate, utilizing a Canadian variant of the Wireless Emergency Alerts framework utilized in the United States.
Environment and Climate Change Canada also maintains Weatheradio Canada, which transmits weather and hazard alerts using Specific Area Message Encoding, similarly to the U.S. NOAA Weather Radio and Emergency Alert System.
Various attempts had been made in the 21st century to establish a public alert system in Canada, by both departments of government and by television broadcasters. In 2001, Pelmorex, owners of The Weather Network and its French language counterpart MétéoMédia, applied to the CRTC for an amendment to their licenses to encompass a mandatory "All Channel Alert" system, requiring all television providers to relay emergency messages on behalf of governments across all of their channels. The service would have used proprietary hardware developed by Pelmorex, and would have been funded primarily by a $0.13 increase in carriage fees for the two channels. However, its initial proposal was denied by the CRTC, citing the need for consultation with broadcasters, television providers, and other parties on how the system would be designed, along with its costs. Establishment of such a system in a voluntary form was also hampered by CRTC rules at the time, which required television providers to obtain consent from broadcasters before they could overlay emergency notifications onto their programming.
In 2005, CRTC called for proposals regarding a national alerting system; Pelmorex and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation submitted proposals for a national system, while Bell ExpressVu submitted a proposal requesting the removal of the consent requirement. The CBC's proposal would have fed alerts via satellite to decoders installed at local CBC Radio transmitters. It would have allowed television providers to participate on a voluntary basis by installing decoders of their own, if the aforementioned consent requirement were removed. All three applicants promised to adopt the standardized alerting specifications that were developed by the government-backed CANALERT initiative.
While broadcasters and governments supported the proposals for a national alerting system, CTV, Canwest Global and CHUM Limited showed concerns surrounding the Pelmorex proposal, as it would be operated by a for-profit venture that would have the power to override their signals with third-party content, and be redundant to alerts already provided as a public service by some broadcasters. Shaw and Rogers argued that the Pelmorex system was less cost-efficient than the CBC's proposal. It was also disputed whether the CRTC could even order the mandatory distribution of the service, as the CRTC does not regulate alphanumeric content because it is not considered television programming. In 2007, the CRTC removed the consent requirement to ease the adoption of voluntary alerting by broadcast distribution undertakings, but stated that it would reconsider the possibility of a mandatory alert system in the future.
In 2009, as a condition of approval for its request for carriage of The Weather Network to be mandatory across all digital television providers, Pelmorex committed to developing a "national aggregator and distributor" of localized emergency alert messages compliant with the Common Alerting Protocol. Pelmorex established a governance council for the system, including representatives of the broadcasting industry, federal government, members of the Senior Officials Responsible for Emergency Management (SOREM), and the Canadian Association for Public Alerting and Notification, to oversee its operations. The system, known as the National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination system (NAAD) would become operational in 2010.
In a 2011 renewal of the must-carry status, the CRTC praised Pelmorex's work, considering the NAAD system to be "an essential element of a national public alerting system", and expressed an expectation for all broadcasters to voluntarily participate in distributing its alerts. However, as a condition of the renewal, the CRTC ordered Pelmorex to reach agreements with all federal, provincial and territorial emergency management officials to allow them to transmit messages through the system, implement the capability of processing "broadcast intrusive alerts" through the system, and develop a public awareness campaign surrounding the alert system with a budget of at least $1 million per-year. In June of the same year, the province of Alberta launched an alerting system of its own, Alberta Emergency Alert, which distributes alerts on radio and television, as well as online and via social networking services.
Environment Canada, the Canadian Council of Emergency Management Organizations, and the provinces of Manitoba and New Brunswick endorsed the potential use of the NAAD framework as a backend for a mandatory public alerting system. On May 26, 2013, SOREM published a "Common Look and Feel" specification for alerts. Developed with guidance from the broadcasting industry, it describes how and when alerts are to be distributed and presented to the public. On February 27, 2014, the CRTC issued a proposal to mandate participation in the national alert system by all broadcasters. The commission felt that owing to the importance of the endeavour, broadcasters had displayed an inconsistent level of commitment to implement it voluntarily.
On August 29, 2014, the CRTC ruled that all Canadian broadcasters, including over-the-air television broadcasters, radio broadcasters, and broadcast distribution undertakings, must begin participating in the National Public Alerting System by March 31, 2015. Community, campus, and aboriginal broadcasters were given an extended deadline of March 31, 2016 to implement the system. The National Public Alerting System was launched on March 31, 2015 under the public-facing brand Alert Ready.
Bell TV, MTS, Shaw Direct, and Sogetel do not fully participate in the system, as some of their customers utilize legacy set-top boxes that cannot be updated to support the display of public alerts. They were granted a six-month extension for the implementation deadline by the CRTC in order to address these issues, under the condition that they inform customers that they cannot receive public alerts unless they update their hardware, and must present bi-weekly progress reports to the CRTC. CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais criticized the providers for their inability to properly implement the system, stating that the commission "will not hide our disappointment that certain television service providers are not ready, despite having been given more than enough time [to implement it.]"
In December 2015, the CRTC granted an indefinite extension of the exceptions and reporting guidelines to Bell, Shaw Direct, and MTS until they completely phase out hardware that is not compatible with the NPAS. The CRTC felt that the providers had made a good-faith effort in informing customers of their inability to receive public alerts and offering hardware replacements. Bell reported that some customers had declined their offering of a free set-top box replacement as they did not want to participate in receiving alerts. MTS discontinued its legacy "Classic TV" service due to its inability to display alerts, and provided incentives for its remaining customers to upgrade to its current "Ultimate TV" service.
Provincial tests began to be held to improve public awareness of the new system, such as in Manitoba, and Quebec. One of the tests in the province on May 19, 2015, simulating a tornado emergency in the Centre-du-Québec region, surprised many people tuned in to radio or TV in the region, leading some to believe that there was an actual tornado emergency.
On April 6, 2017, the CRTC ruled that all wireless carriers in Canada must begin relaying public alerts over LTE wireless networks by April 6, 2018, using Cell Broadcast-based standards by ATIS similar to the U.S. Wireless Emergency Alerts system, collaborating with the SOREM Common Look and Feel guidelines.
On January 29, 2018, the CRTC informed the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence that the official implementation of mobile alerting would not actually occur on the deadline day. The commission cited concerns over the possibility of false positives (such as one in Hawaii earlier that month), and ensuring that the industry meets its goal of at least 50% of devices being capable of receiving mobile alerts by that date.
Alert Ready alerts are broadcast to last-mile distributors using the Anik F1R satellite over C-band on virtual channel 206 (with virtual channel 550 as a backup), and using the Anik F2 satellite over Ku-band. Alerts are also distributed over the internet from web servers based in Oakville and Montreal on TCP port 8080. An RSS feed of past alerts is also available.
The presentation of alerts is dictated by the NPAS Common Look and Feel Guidance. Messages are formatted using the Canadian Profile of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP-CP), and are provided in at least one of Canada's official languages (either English, French, or both, as determined by local policies and laws). Alerts can contain text and audio components, and contain information designating the region that an alert applies to.
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Messages marked with "Broadcast Immediately" flags are used to designate alerts that present "an imminent or unexpected threat to life, that alerting officials wish to be distributed and presented to the public as soon as possible, even if it means disrupting the programming of last mile distributors." On television and radio, relevant alerts marked with this flag are immediately presented to viewers when they are received, interrupting programming to facilitate their display. These alerts are prefaced by the Canadian Alerting Attention Signal (a series of square wave tones, alternating between 440 Hz/659 Hz and 932 Hz/1046 Hz), followed by the audio of the alert where applicable or supported by hardware (in the absence of audio, the alert may be read using a text to speech system, or a generic message played).
The Common Look and Feel Guidance prescribes that, on television, the text of alerts be displayed on either a crawler, or as a full screen notice that covers programming, in white text on a red background in both cases. Crawlers inserted by television channels are positioned near the centre of the screen out of respect for those inserted by broadcast distribution undertakings at the bottom of the screen. The guidelines note that "automated broadcast interruption need not be used if a person can present the text of an audience alert message verbally and visually mindful of the other guidance found in [the guidelines]."
Provinces may also offer mobile apps that distribute alerts as push notifications to mobile devices such as smartphones; both Alberta and Saskatchewan offer apps for their respective alerting services.
Five public awareness tests are scheduled per-year, in which a 30-second test message (60 seconds in provinces where bilingual messages are issued) is publicly broadcast. Four are scheduled quarterly on the third Wednesday of every third month of the year, and an additional test is held in May during Public Safety Canada's Emergency Preparedness Week. NAAD periodically sends "heartbeat" notifications used to verify network connectivity to alerting hardware; they are not marked for broadcast.
- Alberta has a pre-existing alert system, Alberta Emergency Alert (AEA), which is also based on Common Alerting Protocol and was voluntarily adopted by broadcasters serving the province. The AEA system can feed into NAAD, and thus the CRTC considers participation in AEA to be sufficiently in compliance with the national alerting mandate.
- British Columbia: Provincial Emergency Notification System
- Manitoba: Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization
- Saskatchewan: SaskAlert
- Québec: Québec En Alerte (Ministry of Public Security)
An activation of the system in Manitoba for a tornado spotting led to criticism over the quality of the text-to-speech system used by Manitoba's implementation of the alert system, with viewers reporting a "garbled" message and mispronunciations of community names.
On March 6, 2016, Alert Ready was used to distribute an AMBER Alert in Ontario relating to an alleged kidnapping of a child in Orillia (the child's father was actually picking up the child after it had run from home). Viewers felt that the frequent notifications (especially as it occurred during the U.S. airing of the series finale of Downton Abbey, seen via PBS stations carried in Canada) with full-screen messages and alarm sounds as being disruptive, in comparison to the previous, voluntary practice of Canadian broadcasters displaying AMBER Alert messages on tickers. At the same time, the move was praised for providing a higher degree of prominence to the alert; Orillia Ontario Provincial Police commander Patrick Morris defended its use, stating that "while I will apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused, we won't apologize for using all of the tools available to us to find a missing child."
National Post columnist Matt Gurney provided similar praise, but noted that the system's operation hindered its ability to disseminate information quickly. He explained that while the purpose of such a system is to "[get] information to the public as rapidly and as clearly as possible", on his television provider's set-top box "the text was arriving on my screen incredibly slowly. Several minutes into the alert, we were just starting to get the description of the child and the suspect vehicle. It was embarrassing — when seconds count, the province needed minutes to deliver incredibly basic, utterly crucial facts about the emergency. The contrast between the urgently screeching buzz of the alarm and the text crawling up the screen in ultra-slow motion seemed designed for comedic effect." He also, similarly, noted the poor quality of the text-to-speech systems.
- Emergency Alert System (United States)
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