File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS People use a boat to navigate a street surrounded by floodwaters on Ile Bizard west of Montreal.

Citing concerns for flood victims, Ontario, Quebec opt out of alert-system test

OTTAWA — The country’s two biggest provinces won’t take part in what was supposed to be a nationwide test of Canada’s Alert Ready system on Wednesday.

Public Safety Canada says it received notifications last week from Ontario and Quebec that the provinces are opting out of the testing because neither wants to send unnecessary alert tones to residents dealing with historic flooding.

System operators are mandated to conduct nationwide testing of the service twice a year, blasting out distinctive electronic tones on LTE-enabled wireless devices such as cellphones, as well as through television and radio.

Provinces and territories that are part of the system can opt out of a test if they think it would be too disruptive during a real emergency.

The system was launched for TV and radio in 2014 and expanded to cellphones last year, alerting Canadians about potential dangers, including natural disasters, biological and terrorist threats and civil emergencies.

It has also been used to issue localized Amber Alerts when police seek the public’s help to find missing children, although there have been complaints from wireless users that the alerts have been issued too broadly.

More than 100 alerts have been issued through the system since its launch and government officials say it has been proven to save lives.

A recent example cited by officials was the alert that warned residents of Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., of tornadoes that struck the region last September.

A glitch in the public-alert system when it was first tested a year ago affected mobile devices across Quebec. An official with Canada’s telecom regulator said at the time that a coding issue originated with emergency-management officials in that province and Pelmorex Corp., which operates the system.

“This test revealed a number of technical challenges that have since been addressed,” Public Safety Canada spokeswoman Karine Martel said in an email.

Another test last fall “represented a significant improvement from the first test,” she said. “This time, alerts were issued in every provinces and territory across Canada over TV, radio and wireless.”

Testing on Wednesday is scheduled to be conducted at 10:55 a.m. local time in New Brunswick and Newfoundland, 10:25 a.m. in Labrador, 12:55 p.m. in Prince Edward Island and at 1:55 p.m. in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Yukon.

The Canadian Press

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