emargency alert

Emergency Alerts in British Columbia and Across Canada


You’re sitting on the couch eating snacks and watching TV. All of a sudden, you begin to hear a loud notification. BEEP, BEEP, BEEP! The sound is coming from your phone, and you see a notification flash across the screen with a headline that says “Emergency Alert”. 

This loud (and sometimes frightening) beeping noise is a part of Canada’s national wireless emergency alert system, also known as the Alert Ready system. When there is an emergency, provinces and territories across Canada will use the Alert Ready system to issue alerts through TV, radio and wireless devices like your phone. So, what should you do when you receive an alert?

How the emergency alert system works

The Alert Ready system is a mass-notification system that allows provinces and territories to send out critical information to citizens when there is a public safety incident. Currently, the system issues alerts for threats such as floods, wildfires, earthquakes, and extreme heat to amber alerts (eg. kidnapping or a missing person) and civil emergencies. It is important to understand that while these alerts can be issued at both the provincial and national scale, they are meant to complement existing emergency information and alerting functions, including:

  • Notifications from EMBC on the web and social media 
  • The Provincial Emergency Notification System (PENS)
  • Other warnings provided by local authorities, First Nations and related agencies

As previously mentioned, alerts are issued through TV channels, radio and wireless devices. Alerts on TV or radio will interrupt Canadian cable or satellite networks. 

Types of emergency alerts

Wireless Alerts

Wireless alerts are sent to mobile devices. According to British Columbia’s official website, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications (CRTC) requires wireless service providers to distribute alerts to all compatible and connected wireless devices in the area covered by the alert. 

You will receive this type of alert on your wireless device if it is:

  • A smartphone configured for an LTE or 5G network for high-speed wireless communication
  • Wireless public alerting compatible
  • Connected to an LTE cellular network at the time the emergency alert is issued
  • Within the emergency alert area

Presidential Alerts

Presidential alerts are issued to phones purchased outside of Canada or devices that are manufactured to be compatible with the U.S. Wireless Emergency Alerts system or another non-Canadian headline banner. 

If your phone is purchased in Canada, your emergency alert will display: “EMERGENCY ALERT / ALERTE D’URGENCE”, a term that has been agreed upon by the Canadian government and private sector partners. 

What to do if you receive an emergency alert

Emergency alerts will be sent to those in immediate/affected areas in B.C. Alerts may also be sounded in one or more regions or provinces depending on the emergency. Here’s what to do if you receive an emergency alert:

  1. Stop what you are doing and read the notice on the “Emergency Alert” notification. The notification will give details of the emergency and may instruct you to take shelter, lock doors, limit travel, or evacuate an area.
  2. If it is deemed safe to do so, seek additional and credible information from officials in your community. 
  3. Do not call 911 unless you are trapped and unable to evacuate, or are experiencing or witnessing an emergency. 

How do we know if the emergency has been resolved?

Once the emergency is resolved, an “all clear” message or second notification may be issued by the Alert Ready system to inform people that the situation is no longer an emergency or a threat. This alert may or may not be distributed via radio and television stations. It will only be sent to wireless devices if the alert is a “shelter-in-place” alert. Be sure to check in on your local news station or media channels for up-to-date information on the situation. 

Testing the Alert Ready system

Twice a year, the Alert Ready system conducts tests of its emergency alert system. The first test this year was on May 4, 2022, at 1:55 pm. The second test of the year will occur on November 16, 2022, at 1:55 pm.  

According to British Columbia’s official website, an example message will read as follows:

“This is a scheduled TEST of the British Columbia Emergency Alerting System, issued by Emergency Management BC. If this had been an actual emergency, this message would include instructions to help keep you and your community safe. For more information visit www.emergencyinfobc.gov.bc.ca. This TEST is for all of B.C. No action is required.”

Source: Emergency alerts in B.C.

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