Alert Ready is a service designed to deliver critical and potentially life-saving emergency alert messages to Canadians. The alerts for wireless devices are distributed over LTE networks to compatible devices running the latest software.
- There are many factors that will determine whether you will receive an emergency alert to your wireless device. It must be Wireless Public Alert compatible, connected to an LTE network and running the latest software
- You cannot opt out of receiving threat-to-life emergency alerts.
- Alert issuers [Federal, provincial, and territorial governments] determine when an emergency alert will be issued, and to what area. Wireless service providers are simply last-mile distributors; they do not define, manage or interfere with the content/message included in the alerts.
- Emergency alerts are not text messages.
- Emergency alerts begin with a distinct sound, known as the Canadian Alerting Attention Signal. The sound will generally play at the volume your device is set to and, depending on your device, can override all of your settings. Most devices have multiple setting controls for different features such as ringtone, media, notifications, and system.
Role of Tbaytel and other wireless service providers
All wireless service providers have the capability to distribute emergency alerts received from alerting authorities directly to their customers’ WPA-compatible wireless devices using Cell Broadcast distribution over LTE networks.
Emergency alerts are only issued by relevant alerting authorities for threat to life situations.
Relevant provincial, territorial, and federal authorities determine the content of an alert and the area in which it should be broadcast. Wireless service providers do not determine the content or the timing of the alert. Wireless service providers also do not determine the distribution area of an alert, nor its duration.
Who Issues Alerts
Federal, provincial, and territorial governments are responsible for issuing emergency alerts.
Federally, emergency alerts are issued most frequently by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). ECCC can deliver severe weather alerts such as tornado warnings. It is important to note that federally-issued emergency alerts can reach compatible devices in any part of the country even if the user’s province/territory is not using the alerting system. Each provincial or territorial government decides who will have the authority to issue alerts within their jurisdictions. This might include police forces or various emergency service responders.
These authorities decide what an alert will say and the area where it will be distributed. An alert can be sent in a relatively small area, or it can be sent across an entire province – or even more broadly. The defined area for an alert is selected by the alerting authorities.
Role of Government Bodies
Wireless Public Alerting (WPA) is one component of Alert Ready, or the National Public Alerting System, which is ultimately overseen by the Government of Canada, through the CRTC and Public Safety Canada.
The Government of Canada, in partnership with provinces and territories and private sector broadcasters and telecommunications companies, sets guidelines, regulations and “rules” under which all other stakeholders will operate.
The CRTC regulates the broadcasting and telecommunications service providers. Public Safety Canada coordinates across federal departments and agencies responsible for national security, as well as with other levels of government.
Provincial and territorial governments decide who will have the authority to issue alerts within their jurisdictions. For example, emergency alerts could be issued by provincial or territorial emergency management offices or in some cases by municipal emergency management offices or local police and fire departments.
Who sends emergency alerts?
Federal, provincial, and territorial governments are responsible for issuing emergency alerts.
Federally, emergency alerts are issued most frequently by Environment and Climate Change Canada. Each provincial or territorial government decides who will have the authority to issue alerts within their jurisdictions. For example, emergency alerts could be issued by provincial or territorial emergency management offices or in some cases by municipal emergency management offices or local police and fire departments.
Media companies, including television, radio stations, cable and satellite distributors, as well as websites receive these emergency alerts and relay them to their customers.
As of May 8, 2019, wireless service providers are capable of distributing emergency alerts received from alerting authorities directly to their customers’ compatible wireless devices connected to LTE networks using Cell Broadcast distribution.
What types of emergency alerts are issued via Alert Ready?
The Alert Ready system allows alerting authorities from federal, provincial, and territorial governments to issue a wide range of public safety messages. However, broadcasters and wireless service providers are only required to distribute emergency alerts for situations that pose an immediate threat to life.
Government officials developed and agreed on a specific list of the types of alerts that are considered a threat-to-life and should be distributed immediately, interrupting radio and television broadcasts. These “Broadcast Immediately” emergency alerts have the highest level of severity, urgency and certainty. For a full list, visit the Alert Types section of the AlertReady.ca website.
Wireless service providers will only receive and relay emergency alerts that are issued for threat to life situations.
What do emergency alerts look and sound like?
Emergency alerts distributed on radio, television, and compatible wireless devices all begin with a distinct sound, known as the Canadian Alerting Attention Signal. Emergency alerts sent to WPA-compatible wireless devices will also cause the phone to vibrate. The sound and vibration conveys a sense of urgency and reinforces the alert message. For an example of the Alerting Attention Signal, click here.
On compatible wireless devices, the emergency alert will display an “EMERGENCY ALERT/ALERTE D’URGENCE” banner, followed by information that describes the situation and provides instructions on what actions to take and where to find more information. At the top of each emergency alert, the issuing government agency will be clearly indicated.
Are emergency alerts available in alternate formats to accommodate the visually and hearing impaired?
Yes, alternate formats can be issued, but not every alerting authority or every device will have the capability to produce alternate formats.
For emergency alerts distributed via compatible wireless devices, emergency alerts may be read to the recipient if their device supports this accessibility feature. The vibration feature that accompanies emergency alerts sent to compatible wireless devices will help to make hearing impaired people aware of the alerts.
Why do some emergency alerts display with a banner that says “Presidential Alert”?
Wireless public alerts use an international standard and the broadcast channel that is often called “Presidential Alert” in the United States. Governments and private sector partners have worked with Canadian wireless service providers to use the term “EMERGENCY ALERT / ALERTE D’URGENCE”, as identified in version 2.0 of the National Public Alerting System Common Look and Feel Guidance, published on March 29, 2018. However, some phones pre-dating this guidance, or that were either purchased outside of Canada or manufactured to be compatible with the U.S. Wireless Emergency Alerts system, will use the American international standard and will display “Presidential Alert”, or another non-Canadian headline banner.
Will emergency alerts be for my specific area?
The alerting authority determines what areas are affected by an incident, weather or environmental situation, and uses a standard system that will typically correspond with municipal, regional or provincial boundaries. The standardized system will allow participating radio, television, cable and satellite companies to broadcast the emergency alerts that are most relevant to the communities they serve.
Emergency alerts intended for wireless devices are issued to a defined geographic area so that only people physically present in the defined area at the time an emergency alert is issued receive this alert. Compatible wireless devices in the targeted area will receive the emergency alerts within seconds of being issued, provided the phones are powered on and connected to an LTE cellular network.
Will all wireless devices receive emergency alerts?
No. Not all devices are capable of receiving an alert. Wireless service providers are required to distribute alerts following specific requirements that were identified by the CRTC.
In order for a wireless device to be capable of receiving an alert three broad conditions must be met.
The wireless device must be:
- A wireless public alerting (WPA) compatible device, like a smartphone, capable of connecting to an LTE network (LTE is commonly referred to as “4G LTE”); and
- Equipped with the latest version of its operating software; and
- Connected to an LTE cellular network at the time the emergency alert is issued or joins the network while the alert is still active.
Older cell phones that operate exclusively on non-LTE networks will not get an alert.
It is very important to verify your device’s WPA compatibility with your service provider, and to understand what may impact your ability to receive an alert even if your device is identified as WPA-compatible. If your device was purchased outside of Canada, it may be necessary for you to contact the device manufacturer for additional information for your specific device.
What does it mean to have “a wireless device that is WPA-compatible”?
A wireless device that is WPA compatible is:
- An LTE device; and
- Has special software embedded in it which allows for alerts sent by alert issuers, via Cell Broadcast, to be received in the standard Alert Ready format.
It is important to note that some devices sold before May 8, 2019, do not have the WPA software already embedded. This is why it is very important that device users install all software updates that are sent on a regular basis to their devices by the manufacturers.
Visit the Wireless section of AlertReady.ca to find a link to the section of your wireless service provider’s website that provides information on compatible devices.
When should I expect to get a test alert? Are they scheduled in advance?
Testing of the emergency alert system is scheduled in advance. The test schedule for your specific province or territory can be found on AlertReady.ca
Test alerts are distributed via AM/FM radio, TV, cable TV, and WPA compatible devices. The test alert is intended to validate that the overall alerting system is working as it should. No action is required should you receive the alert on your device.
You cannot opt-out from receiving test alerts.
I thought my phone was compatible but I didn’t receive a test alert. What should I do?
It is important that you first verify that you did not receive an alert by checking your device’s “notification” folder. In some instances you might not see or notice the alert even though your device has received it. The alert might be “hidden” with other notifications.
If you didn’t receive an alert on your device it is important to do several things, including checking the phone’s WPA compatibility with your service provider, as well as ensuring that you have updated the software. There are many factors that will impact your ability to receive the alert including your location, or whether you are connected to the LTE network at the time of the alert distribution.
Wireless service providers cannot identify how many devices receive the test r any alert).
Why doesn’t my wireless service provider know that I didn’t receive the test r emergency alerts in general)?
Emergency alerts, including test alerts, are sent using cell broadcast technology. Wireless service providers cannot track who received the alert because cell broadcast is one way communication. Your provider will know if the alert was sent from the towers in the affected area, but not that it was received.
Can I opt-out from receiving test alerts?
No, you cannot opt-out from receiving test alerts.
Are these emergency alerts sent as a text message?
No. While the emergency alert may look like a text message it is not a text message. An emergency alert will pop up on your screen and have a distinctive look and sound.
Emergency alerts are sent via Cell Broadcast distribution. Cell Broadcast is a mobile technology that allows alerts to be broadcast to all compatible wireless devices within a designated geographical area. Cell Broadcast is designed for simultaneous alert distribution to multiple users in a specified area and is not affected by network congestion because it uses dedicated part of the network, different from that used for traditional voice and data traffic.
Cell Broadcast can be compared to radio broadcast. Radio towers broadcast music to people in defined geographic areas as long as the individuals can pick-up the broadcast signal and have their radios turned on. Similarly, Cell Broadcast messages are distributed to those compatible wireless devices that are within range of cell towers and antennas in the designated area. As long as the device meets required criteria and is connected to an LTE network, it is capable of receiving the alert.
Are other mobile devices (e.g., tablets) capable of receiving emergency alerts?
Wireless service providers are required to distribute emergency alerts to compatible smartphones that can access LTE (cellular) networks. Additional devices – such as tablets and wearable accessories (e.g. smartwatches) – may be capable, from a technical perspective, to receive some form of the alert, but it will not necessarily be received on the device in the Alert Ready format. Wireless service providers are not mandated to support WPA for these other devices.
Will emergency alerts interrupt or end a voice call or another activity in progress?
Emergency alerts will not end or terminate a voice call or data session in progress (except in some circumstances if you are doing a call over Wi-Fi). However, being on a voice call at the time an alert is distributed may impact your ability to receive an alert; this will especially be true in instances where voice calls are placed over non-LTE networks.
If you are on a data session, such as surfing the Internet or using an application such as Facebook or Netflix on your device, your data session will continue but it may be briefly interrupted by the emergency alert appearing on your wireless device screen.
Will I receive an emergency alert if my wireless device is off or set to silent?
A compatible wireless device that is turned off, or is in Airplane Mode, will not receive an emergency alert. If the emergency alert is still active when the wireless device is powered on, and the user is still in the alert area, the wireless device will then receive the alert.
For additional information, refer to your device’s User Manual.
If my wireless device is off for an extended period of time, will the emergency alert appear once I turn my phone back on?
If the emergency alert is still active when the compatible wireless device is turned back on, and you are within the emergency alert area, the emergency alert will be displayed. If the emergency alert is no longer active or if you have travelled outside of the alert area, it will not be displayed.
Will I receive an emergency alert if my phone is connected to Wi-Fi?
While on Wi-Fi, if the compatible wireless device can still connect with an LTE cellular network, it should receive emergency alerts. If the wireless device cannot connect to an LTE cellular network (or is set to Wi-Fi only) it will not receive an emergency alert.
Devices that are Wi-Fi only will not receive alerts.
What should I do if I receive a test alert on my wireless device?
Test alerts will be identified as such. Test alerts are intended to “test” the functionality of the system, and inform consumers of wireless emergency alerts, and do not require the consumer to take steps to secure their safety.
You may be required to acknowledge receipt of the emergency alert in order to allow for your wireless device to resume normal functioning. In the event that you cannot acknowledge the alert, the alert sound and vibration will continue for 8 seconds. Depending on your specific wireless device, additional reminders may occur if you do not acknowledge the alert.
What should I do if I receive an emergency alert on my wireless device?
Upon receiving the emergency alert, it is important to take action safely. Stop what you are doing when it is safe to do so and read the emergency alert. Government officials will include, within the emergency alert, the information you need for any action you need to take. This could include but is not limited to: limit unnecessary travel, evacuate the areas, seek shelter, etc.
What should I do if I receive an emergency alert on my wireless device while driving?
It is important to take action safely, especially if the emergency alert is received while operating a vehicle. If you are driving, it is important to remain calm and pull over at your earliest opportunity, where it is safe to do so, to view the emergency alert.
Will I be charged if I receive an emergency alert on my wireless device if I don’t have unlimited texting or data within my mobile plan?
No. Wireless alerts are sent on a specific cellular channel that is separate from normal text and data traffic. While the alerts may look like text messages, they are not text messages and are not billed.
Also, emergency alerts are sent to wireless devices in a specific geographic area and do not require the phone numbers of those devices. As such there is no ability to identify or bill for the alerts that are received.
Can I opt out of receiving emergency alerts on my wireless device?
No. Emergency alerts received on your compatible wireless device are relevant to you and require immediate attention, and government regulations mandate that all compatible wireless devices receive all relevant alerts.
Wireless public alerting can be geotargeted and can be very specific to a limited area of coverage. As a result, if an emergency alert reaches your wireless device, you are located in an area where there is an imminent danger.
In certain situations an alert issuer may choose to send an alert to a broader area. For example, and AMBER Alert may be issued province-wide at the discretion of the relevant alerting authority.
Will I receive emergency alerts on my wireless device if I’m travelling to or from another province or jurisdiction within Canada?
Yes. Emergency alerts are issued to a defined geographic area; only people in the defined area will receive the emergency alerts. If you are travelling and happen to be in another province when an emergency alert is issued, your compatible wireless device will receive the emergency alert within seconds of being issued, provided your phone is powered on and connected to the LTE cellular network.
Will I receive emergency alerts on my wireless device relevant to where I live while I am travelling away from home?
No. If you are travelling, you will only receive emergency alerts that occur where you are.
Canadians can keep track of emergency alerts occurring in specific areas (e.g. where they or other family members live) through a number of available apps and online services.
Will I receive emergency alerts on my wireless device if I’m travelling (roaming) outside of Canada?
Maybe. If the country that you are visiting supports wireless alerting, then you may receive the alert, provided your phone is powered on and WPA compatible.
Canadian wireless service providers are not responsible for alerts that are broadcast outside of Canada.
Will I still receive emergency alerts if cellular towers are affected by the situation?
Emergency alerts are broadcast from cellular towers and antennas within the area specified by the alert issuer. The towers/antennas therefore must be operational to send emergency alerts. If you are in an affected area but your wireless device is unable to connect to any towers/antennas because of the situation, you will not receive the emergency alert on your wireless device.
Will alerts sent to my wireless device be used to gather data about me?
No. Emergency alerts are sent using Cell Broadcast distribution. Cell Broadcast can only transmit information to your wireless device. This means that no data is being gathered about you, your wireless device or your location when emergency alerts are sent out. This also means that wireless service providers will not be able to determine whether your specific device received the alert.
Devices certified by a Canadian wireless service provider
Ability to receive an alert: Consumers should check their specific device against their wireless service providers’ list of WPA-compatible devices. If your device is not on the carrier list, it is not WPA compatible.
In addition, consumers should ensure that the SOFTWARE on their WPA-compatible device is kept up to date. Outdated software may affect a device’s ability to receive an alert even if it is WPA-compatible.
Timing of soft-ware updates may also impact whether devices will be WPA-compatible on other wireless service provider’s LTE networks in instances when customers switch providers but bring their own phone.
Connection to LTE network: WPA compatible devices must be connected to an LTE network at the time an alert is distributed. The symbol, usually located in the upper right-hand corner of your device, will help you to identify what network you are connected to.
However, it is important to understand that even if you’re in an area that has LTE coverage, what you are doing with your device at the time an alert is issued will impact your ability to receive it. For example:
- If you have set your device to Wi-Fi only, you will not receive an alert.
- If you are on a voice call at the time of the alert, you may not receive an alert. Voice calls may move your connection to a non-LTE network, like 3G, even if you are in an LTE area.
- If you are in a location that makes signal reception difficult at the time of the alert, such as an underground garage, you may not receive an alert.
Device settings: The emergency alert will follow user settings:
- The VOLUME of the alert will be the same volume as that which is set on your phone. Most devices have multiple setting controls for different features such as ringtone, media, notifications, and system. The Canadian Alerting Attention Signal is usually controlled by the Notification setting.
- If your device is set with a REMINDER feature, this may cause the alert to repeat until you acknowledge it. This feature can be turned off following directions in your device’s User Guide.
- If your device is set to SILENT or DO NOT DISTURB mode you might not see or notice the alert even though your device has received it. The emergency alert might be listed with other notifications.
Devices purchased from other countries
Each cellular provider in Canada uses its own set of frequencies. Each device supports a different set of frequencies that determine what networks it can connect to. Devices that are certified by a Canadian wireless service provider will be programmed in such a way as to be operational on that Canadian network.
Devices that are acquired in other countries and brought in to Canada – which are referred to as “grey market devices” – may not comply with Canada’s wireless equipment standards. These devices may be on the list of WPA-compatible devices on a wireless service provider’s website without being compatible from the standpoint of software.
Specific to WPA, (Wireless Service Provider) the device:
- May not fully support software upgrades;
- May not be capable of receiving an alert even if it is identified as a model that is WPA-compatible;
- May not support or display an alert in the correct format, or in the language it is sent.
These situations are fully outside of a service provider’s control.
In cases where you purchased your device outside of Canada, you should verify compatibility with the device manufacturer directly.