Wireless emergency alerting: a personal story

Long Beach Skyline

Wireless public alerting is coming into effect in Canada in this week!. Here’s some insight on what to expect based on personal experience last November 2017 with the equivalent system in the United States.

Ironically, I was attending the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) annual conference in Long Beach, California when a wireless emergency alert came through on my mobile phone in the middle of the night. At first, in the fog of just being woken up, I thought the message on my phone was related to the conference somehow. A demonstration of the next day’s topic maybe? But then, as the fog cleared, I realized that this was a real broadcast-intrusive emergency alert being sent to my phone via the US wireless emergency alert (WEA) system.

As you can see, there’s not a lot of information provided in the alert message itself. It simply says check your local media. There’s no further information or context provided. Afterwards, the Los Angeles Daily News ran a story with the headline “Confused by that vague Amber Alert on Wednesday? You weren’t alone.

Like many quoted in the Los Angeles Daily News story, I was confused by the message, so I started to Google for more information. I first searched for “long beach emergency”, the town where I was staying. Nothing. I then searched for “Orange County emergency alert”. Again, nothing. I then changed my search criteria to filter the results to only information in the past 24 hours. Still nothing. Frustration was setting in. I was mulling “do I need to be concerned then? If it was reeeeally serious, surely it would be top results??”.

I convinced myself to keep looking and eventually found the Long Beach Emergency Alert government web page. But no alerts were posted on the page. All that was there was a button to sign up (enter personal details) to be contacted for emergency alerts. I was thinking “do I actually have to sign up (and provide my personal information) before I can find out what this emergency alert is about??” Frustration at an all-time high at this point.

I decided to go back to Google and give it one…last…try. I slowly entered “California emergency alert” into the search bar and clicked on “in the last 24 hours” and finally!! There at the top of the page was the details for an Amber Alert issued by the Sacramento California Highway Patrol for the abduction of a 1-year old child! Not that I had anything to offer in the way of assistance, but could you imagine if I did but had given up?

For wireless emergency alerting to be effective, the public needs to be able to quickly corroborate the alert and find more information about it fast! Trusted sources of information for the alert that are easily findable and accessible is crucial! The Alertable app will provide that for any wireless public alerts sent in Canada since the app is connect to Canada’s national public alerting system, Alert Ready. A full description and any instructions on how to remain safe will be immediately available in the Alertable app.

Take care. Be prepared.

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