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Oops, test it again: CRTC directs telcos to prepare for second test of wireless emergency alert system

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Public safety officials plan to conduct a second public test of Canada’s new wireless emergency alert system after technical glitches marred the first trial run last spring.

The wireless alerts — which distribute a tone, vibration and text message to compatible cellphones in range of life-threatening events such as fire or terrorist attacks — have been used dozens of times since the May launch and were lauded for their usefulness during the tornado in Ottawa in September.

But Senior Officials Responsible for Emergency Management (SOREM) want to re-test the system to see if it’s working properly and to increase awareness, according to a September letter to the CRTC.

As such, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission directed wireless providers to prepare for another test as early as November 2018 at the behest of the federal, provincial and territorial officials.

“As the May 2018 tests were not completely successful and in light of the SOREM’s request, the CRTC is requiring wireless service providers to distribute additional visible wireless test alerts that would be issued by emergency management organizations,” CRTC spokeswoman Sujata Raisinghani said in an email.

During the first test, a network configuration issue impeded BCE Inc. and Telus Corp. from distributing the alerts to some customers in Ontario, spokespeople said at the time. Pelmorex Corp., owner of The Weather Network and operator of the national alert system, blamed an extra space in a line of code for the test’s failure in Quebec.

These problems have since been identified and addressed, the CRTC found in an analysis of the trial. Still, it determined the May test didn’t meet its objective of ensuring end-to-end functionality.

“Additional testing of the system will increase awareness amongst Canadians and allow alerting stakeholders to identify and address any additional issues that could affect the system’s effectiveness,” Raisinghani said.

In an October letter to wireless providers and Pelmorex, the CRTC directed carriers to give subscribers at least 30 days’ notice before sending another alert. The notifications must remind customers that only compatible devices can receive an alert, whether it’s a test or the real thing. (Visit AlertReady.ca for more information on device compatibility.)

Public Safety Canada is finalizing plans to conduct the second test later this year, spokeswoman Zarah Malik said in an email.

SOREM also plans to request the CRTC amend regulations to require a biannual schedule for test alerts. As it stands, the rules require providers to send one alert during Emergency Preparedness Week.

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