Wireless Public Alert Awareness FAQs
Alert Ready is a service designed to deliver critical and potentially life-saving emergency alert messages to Canadians. The Alert Ready system was developed in partnership with federal, provincial, and territorial emergency management officials, Pelmorex Weather Networks (Television) Inc., the broadcast industry, and wireless service providers to ensure you receive emergency alerts immediately and know when to take action to keep you and your family safe.
It is the role of the relevant provincial, territorial, and federal authorities to determine the content of an alert, the area in which it is distributed and its timing. All wireless service providers have the capability to distribute emergency alerts.
To see if your device will receive these messages and its required settings, please check the list of compatible devices, Please note that more devices will be added shortly.
Frequently Asked Questions:
- 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 consumers.
- 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 website.
Issuing alerts outside of this list (for example heavy rainfall or blizzard warnings) is at the discretion of each of the broadcasters. Wireless service providers will only receive and relay messages that are issued for threat-to-life situations.
- How do I know if the alerting authority in my area will issue emergency alerts?
Visit the How are alerts broadcast in my province/territory? section of AlertReady.ca for information how emergency alerts are used in your province.
Federally, emergency alerts are issued most frequently by Environment and Climate Change Canada. It is important to note that the federally-issued emergency alerts can reach your compatible wireless device in any part of the country even if your province/territory is not using the Alert Ready system.
- What are the different ways I will receive emergency alerts?
You can currently expect to receive emergency alerts via Canadian radio and TV, cable and satellite operators.
- Can I choose which way an emergency alert is sent to me?
No. Regulations require all commercial, campus, community and Indigenous radio and television broadcasters, cable, satellite and IPTV providers, as well as wireless service providers to distribute emergency alerts.
There is no sign-up or opt-in required. Emergency alerts will be automatically sent through these broadcast channels, and to your compatible wireless device.
- What do emergency alerts look and sound like?
Emergency alerts, on radio, television and compatible wireless devices, begin with a distinct sound, known as the Canadian Alert 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 Alert Attention Signal, click here.
On television and radio, the emergency alert sound will be followed by an automated message with the emergency alert details. On television, the emergency alert details in text will be presented either as a full screen or a crawler section at the top or bottom of the screen.
On compatible wireless devices, the emergency alert will display an “EMERGENCY ALERT” banner, followed by text 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.
- 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 sent out in different languages?
Alert Ready supports emergency alerts in both English and French. However, the language used for alerts is determined by each alerting authority. Generally, alerting authorities will issue emergency alerts based on the official language requirements of their organization or jurisdiction. Broadcasters and wireless service providers pass on emergency alert text exactly how it is received from the alerting authority.
- 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 capacity to produce alternate formats. For example, emergency alerts distributed via radio and TV broadcast can include an audio file version of the text portion of the emergency alert message if one is provided by alerting authorities. If audio files are not provided, broadcasters may use text-to-speech software to create an audio version of the message. 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.
- Will emergency alerts be for my specific area?
Yes. 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, which can be as small as a few city blocks, so that only people in the defined area receive the emergency alerts. 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 the LTE cellular network.
- What should I do if I receive an emergency alert?
Upon receiving the emergency alert it is important to take action safely. Alerting authorities 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, shelter-in-place, etc.
- Will emergency alerts interrupt scheduled television and radio broadcast programming?
Yes. On television, a crawl across the top or bottom of the screen or a full-page display is expected for most emergency alerts. The exact manner in which emergency alerts will be broadcast is left to the discretion of the local television broadcaster, cable or satellite distributor.
Radio programming is interrupted by a recorded voice or text-to-speech voice announcing the situation.
- How will I know when an emergency alert has ended?
Alerting authorities may choose to distribute an “all-clear” message at their discretion once the situation has been resolved. The all-clear message would be distributed via broadcast services at their discretion but will not be sent to wireless devices.
As part of an emergency alert message, alerting authorities must also set a time when they expect the alert to expire. The expiry time is different from the “all-clear” message, as it is set in advance and does not necessarily indicate when an emergency is over. Because each emergency alert issued requires that an expiry date and time be included, alerting authorities estimate when they think the alert will need to be updated or cancelled.
- Are a lot of emergency alerts being issued?
The amount and type of emergency alerts vary by jurisdiction. Emergency alerts for threat-to-life situations are infrequent.
- Will multiple emergency alerts be generated for the same event if sent by multiple alerting authorities?
This situation is very unlikely. Emergency management officials are experts in their fields and coordinate activities, including public alerting, very closely and will be monitoring emergency alerts issued by neighboring jurisdictions.
- What type of security is in place so that I know the emergency alerts are being sent by an authorized agency?
The operator of the Alert Ready system and government officials at all levels take security very seriously.
In addition to the security measures that government agencies take every day to ensure access to their system is by authorized personnel only, additional passwords and user identification is needed for users of the Alert Ready system. Separately, Pelmorex Weather Networks (Television) Inc., the operator of the Alert Ready system, has additional measures in place to prevent unauthorized access.
- Will all wireless devices receive emergency alerts?
No. In order for emergency alerts to be received on a wireless device four conditions must be met.
The wireless device must be:
- An LTE-device like a smartphone (LTE is commonly referred to as “4G LTE”);
- Wireless public alerting (WPA)-compatible;
- Connected to an LTE cellular network at the time the emergency alert is issued; and
- On the latest OS software version
Please refer to the list of compatible devices found at the top of the FAQs page.
- What does it mean to have a wireless device that is WPA-compatible?
A wireless device that is WPA-compatible is (1) an LTE-device, and (2) has special software embedded in it which allows for messages sent by your service provider, via Cell Broadcast, to be received in the standard Alert Ready format.
As of April 2019, all new devices sold by Virgin Plus are capable of receiving wireless emergency alerts.
Emergency alerts that meet the Alert Ready format allow you to know when an alert is received (because of the sound and vibration), and also provides confirmation that it is issued by a legitimate sources.
Please refer to the list of compatible devices.
- 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.
Emergency alerts are sent via Cell Broadcast distribution. Cell Broadcast is a mobile technology that allows messages to be broadcast to all compatible wireless devices within a designated geographical area. Cell Broadcast is designed for simultaneous message delivery to multiple users in a specified area, and is not affected by network congestion because it uses dedicated part of the network, separate 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. Cell Broadcast messages similarly are delivered to those compatible wireless devices that are within range of cell towers and antennas in the designated area. Location services do not have to be enabled on your wireless device to be able to receive alerts.
- 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 wireless devices – such as tablets and wearable accessories (e.g. smartwatches) – may be capable, from a technical perspective, to receive some form of the message, but it will not necessarily be received on the device in the Alert Ready format.
- 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.
If you are on a voice-call when the emergency alert is received, you will be made aware of the alert by a notification tone (similar to call waiting). When your call terminates the alert will be displayed on your wireless device.
If you are on a data session, your 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 will not display 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 display the alert.
A compatible wireless device that is set to silent will display an emergency alert, but you might not hear the emergency alert sound. The emergency alert sound will usually play at whatever the current volume setting is on the wireless device, so if your wireless device is set to silent, no sound will accompany the emergency alert message. However, this behaviour can differ depending on your wireless device and in some instances the alert sound may override your user settings.
- 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?
A compatible device will receive emergency alerts if it can still communicate with the LTE cellular network, while on Wi-Fi. If the wireless device is not within reach of the LTE cellular network (or is set to Wi-Fi only) it will not receive an emergency alert.
Please note that if your cellular data is off on your device settings and you are on Wi-Fi zone only, you will not receive alerts.
- What should I do if I receive a test message on my wireless device?
Test messages will be identified as such. These messages are intended to “test” the functionality of the system and do not require the consumer to take steps to secure their safety.
However, you may be required to acknowledge receipt of the emergency alert in order to allow your wireless device to resume normal functioning. In the event that you cannot acknowledge the alert, the tone and vibration will continue for 8 seconds; depending on your specific wireless handset, additional reminders may occur.
- Why am I not allowed to opt-out?
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has mandated that all compatible wireless devices receive all relevant alerts.
Regulatory Policy from the CRTC that mandates Canadians to receive Alert Ready Emergency Alerts: https://crtc.gc.ca/eng/archive/2017/2017-91.htm
For additional information about the Alert Ready system, please visit the FAQ section at https://www.alertready.ca/#faq.
- I thought my phone was compatible device 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.
- 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 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?
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 like text messages.
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 messages 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.
Unlike radio and television broadcasting, which often has broad areas of coverage; wireless public alerting is geo-targeted 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.
- Will I receive emergency alerts on my wireless device if I’m travelling to another province or territory within Canada?
Yes. Emergency alerts are issued to a defined geographic area, such that 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.
- Will I still receive wireless 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. Compatible wireless devices connected to the specified towers/antennas will receive the emergency alert. 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.