NEWS
05/07/2018 12:31 EDT | Updated 05/08/2018 12:09 EDT

'Serious Glitches' Mean A Fail In Quebec, Ontario For Emergency Warning System

At least it was just a test and not a real emergency.

A glitch in the new national public alert system for mobile devices affected the entire province of Quebec on Monday, said a CRTC spokeswoman, while in Ontario the test warning messages appeared to be hit and miss.

Shortly after the test was scheduled to reach mobile devices in Ontario, at 1:55 p.m. ET, social media was flooded with messages from people confirming they had received the signal, others who had not and still others who appeared startled or even surprised by it.

Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press
A smartphone and a television receive visual and audio alerts to test Alert Ready, a national public alert system.

"I forgot that we were getting that emergency alert testing on our phones,'' wrote one Twitter user, going only by Mary.

"But I got forcibly reminded, all right. And there is not enough hot chocolate in the world to calm me down right now.''

Another Twitter user, Brent Morris, wrote that some people at his office got the alert on their phones, but he didn't.

"I guess if the world ends, I'm the last to know,'' he quipped.

For those who did receive it the message read, in part, ``This is a test of Ontario's Alert Ready System. There is no danger to your health or safety.''

There is not enough hot chocolate in the world to calm me down right now.

In Quebec, where the test did not go as planned shortly before 10 a.m., the problem did not originate with cellphone service providers but appears to have occurred between emergency management in the province and Pelmorex Corp., which operates the system, said the CRTC's Patricia Valladao.

``The alerts are actually coming from the emergency management in the region and then it goes to Pelmorex,'' Valladao said.

In an email to The Canadian Press, Pelmorex issued a statement explaining what happened.

"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,'' it read, adding the misconfiguration was quickly corrected.

The statement also pointed out the Quebec test "did broadcast successfully on TV and radio.''

Pelmorex says the Ontario test alert was to proceed as planned on all TV, radio, and wireless platforms at 1:55 pm EDT.

A space incorrectly included in the coding prevented the Alert Ready System from sending the Quebec test message.

Test signals had been scheduled to be sent to millions of mobile users in Quebec around mid-morning.

Valladao pointed out at least it was just a test and not a real emergency.

"That's why they were running tests - to see if something went wrong,'' she said.

Depending on settings, users with compatible devices connected to an LTE network would hear a tone similar to an ambulance alarm or feel a vibration for eight seconds. Devices that are turned off won't receive the signal but phone users will hear their conversations interrupted by a sound similar to a call-waiting tone.

The tests are being conducted after the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ordered wireless providers to implement the system to distribute warnings of imminent safety threats such as tornadoes, floods, Amber Alerts or terrorist threats.

Radio and TV stations would also run the tests.

Caleb Jones/The Associated Press
This Jan. 13, 2018 smartphone screen capture shows a false incoming ballistic missile emergency alert sent from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency system.

A similar system is already used in the United States and made headlines earlier this year when an emergency official in Hawaii mistakenly sent an alert about a potential incoming ballistic missile.

A report issued last month by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission said the false alarm, which went uncorrected for 38 minutes after being transmitted and caused widespread panic across the Pacific islands state, was a result of human error and inadequate safeguards.

"The CRTC has no insights with respect to what occurred in Hawaii, other than what has been reported in the media,'' the regulator said.

But it added that Canada has safeguards in place to prevent false signals from being distributed to mobile devices.

Unlike wireless emergency alerts issued in the United States, Canada's system requires a specific vibration cadence, alert tone and banner to notify users of an emergency.

As well, the emergency alerts are not text, or SMS, messages, but are distributed using what's known as cell broadcast technology. The messages can't be tracked by service providers so they can't tell who has or has not received the alert, the CRTC said.