The when, where and what of Wireless Public Alerting in Canada

Common questions about Alert Ready wireless tests in Canada. The when, where and what of the Alert Ready system.

The Alert Ready Wireless tests in May 2018 received a lot of attention, and previous blog posts discussed “What” these tests are and “Why” they are run. Another common question about these tests is “When” do they take place?

The Canadian National Public Alerting System, also known as NPAS or Alert Ready, includes the participation of many different partners such as government agencies, broadcasters, wireless service providers, and others. This diverse group meets regularly to maintain the Public Awareness Test Schedule, which sets out the dates and times of tests up to a year in advance. There are many considerations that this group takes into account when determining the schedule.

For instance, the time of day to run the tests is an important concern. Since the test will interrupt radio/TV programs, the broadcasters would prefer to see the tests run during the middle of the night when the viewership impact is low. But that would mean wireless alerts are sent to the public in the middle of the night, waking them and causing significant complaints. Running the tests during morning or evening rush hour, or during the Stanley Cup finals are all concerns that have to be balanced. Even timings between provinces, whether they are in the same time zone, or would overlap because of shared broadcaster equipment in two provinces, are factors that come into play.

However, the biggest concern for the public is usually how often. Hold too many tests and the public stops paying attention to the entire system, hold too few and you don’t exercise it properly and a technical component might not be set up correctly. In the U.S. tests of the Emergency Alert System are required on a monthly basis. Here in Canada, they are currently scheduled for 5 times a year.

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