Canada’s New National Alert System Failed Spectacularly During Its First Test
Alerts didn’t make it to mobile devices in Quebec and Ontario.
If there’s one thing recent months have taught me, it’s that when society’s shit hits the fan I want to know about it right away. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I get a push notification saying life as we know it is about to end, but I want to see it OK?
This is why it’s very concerning that Canada’s new national warning system for emergencies failed in spectacular fashion during its first public test on Monday.
The project, called Alert Safe, was hyped by the national broadcaster, employers, and so on, which warned people that they would receive a notification on their mobile devices and that their phones would emit a loud sound during the test, in addition to warning messages broadcast on TV and radio. The morning test window came and went in the province of Quebec, but residents’ phones didn’t light up. In Ontario—the home of Canada’s most populous city, Toronto—it appears as though for many people the advertised test time of 1:55 PM passed by without incident unless you happened to be watching TV or listening to the radio.
Ontarians are tweeting about not receiving alerts on their mobile devices, but there are scattered reports of alerts getting through to some mobile devices. One man documented on Twitter how he pointed TV cameras at three different phones to catch the big moment only to be let down. “Four phones. Two android. Only the one Android on Rogers received the #AlertReady message,” he tweeted. One colleague who received the alert described it to me as looking similar to Apple’s terms of service and sounding “ambulance-y.” I wouldn’t know, because nearly an hour after the scheduled test time I haven’t received any alert.
"Today at 1:55 PM EDT Alert Ready ran the Ontario test alert across television, radio, and for the first time, compatible wireless devices," an Alert Safe spokesperson wrote Motherboard in an email. "The intent of this test is to validate all components of the system before an actual emergency. We understand that some wireless users did not receive the test alert. All Alert Ready partners are working together to identify the cause. We thank everyone for their patience as we investigate and work through the test alert results."
The company administering the tests, Pelmorex, gave a statement to The Canadian Press explaining that the failed morning test in Quebec was due to a coding error.
“A space incorrectly included in the coding prevented the Alert Ready System from sending the Quebec test message to compatible wireless devices earlier this morning," the company told The Canadian Press. Tests for most of the rest of Canada, excluding Nunavut, will continue on Wednesday.
Motherboard reached out to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (the country’s federal telecom regulator) for comment, but spokespeople were not immediately available.
Although the two incidents aren’t quite the same, the failure of Canada’s shiny new alert system recalls the time a false ballistic missile alert was fat-fingered direct to the phones of everybody in Hawaii. All in all, it’s a pretty unsettling day to be a hoser.
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Update: This article was updated to include comment from Alert Safe.