Initial SaskAlert warning after fatal shootings on James Smith Cree First Nation was incomplete

·3 min read
RCMP in Melfort, Sask., issued an emergency alert on Sunday evening that said to avoid
RCMP in Melfort, Sask., issued an emergency alert on Sunday evening that said to avoid

The search for the man suspected in a fatal shooting of two people on James Smith Cree Nation is over, but some confusion remains about the emergency alert from Sunday.

RCMP in Melfort, Sask., issued an emergency alert at 8:46 p.m. CST on Sunday, advising people to "avoid the community."

The problem was that the message to people's phones didn't say what community to avoid, raising questions about how the alerts are supposed to work and what went wrong in this case.

"At 9:05 p.m, the Saskatchewan RCMP became aware that not everyone was seeing the location information in the broadcast immediate alert issued at 8:46 p.m. on September 5," Saskatchewan RCMP said in an email to CBC News.

"The Saskatchewan RCMP quickly identified what was causing the issue and an updated SaskAlert was issued at 9:13 p.m."

Emergency alerting is one more tool which the Saskatchewan RCMP can consider using to help keep the people of Saskatchewan safe. Emergency alerting continues to be a top priority for the Saskatchewan RCMP and we have taken a number of steps over the years to enhance our response to ensure we are ready to respond quickly to unfolding public safety incidents.

RCMP - Handout
RCMP - Handout

During the time between the initial alert and the updated version almost 30 minutes later, people who saw the alert were left wondering what community they should avoid. Saskatoon Police Service received "multiple calls" from residents regarding the emergency alert, according to a notice the service published on Sunday at 9:02 p.m.

Saskatoon police informed the public that the emergency message was related to an incident north of Melfort.

"At this time, there is no relation between this incident and the Saskatoon area."

Who received the alert?

Some Saskatchewan residents were confused about who did and did not receive the alert.

The Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) explained in an email that Sunday's emergency message "was a broadcast immediate alert, which means anyone with a cell phone in the targeted areas would have received an alert.

"The alert was restricted to specific regions and was not a province-wide alert."

But anyone else in Saskatchewan with the SaskAlert app installed on their phones might have also received the alert if they choose to receive province-wide alerts, the SPSA said.

In incidents like this, when public safety is a concern, RCMP officers determine the geographic area affected. Amber Alerts, by comparison, are sent out to the entire province.

"The SaskAlert and subsequent updates were issued in three divisions in the province," said the Saskatchewan RCMP in an email on Tuesday.

"Saskatoon was not in one of the selected divisions where the broadcast immediate alert was issued. Please note there are multiple ways in which a member of the public can receive a SaskAlert."

Government of Saskatchewan
Government of Saskatchewan

Agencies who can issue alerts in Saskatchewan include Environment Canada, government of Saskatchewan ministries and the RCMP, according to the SPSA. Participating local governing jurisdictions can also issue alerts, such as municipalities or First Nation communities.

WATCH | The SaskAlert system rolled out six years ago:

In the case of the shooting, the RCMP was the agency who issued the emergency alert.

Usually, emergency alerts include information about the type of emergency, where the emergency takes place and what people should do to stay safe, the SPSA said.

Used in similar situation in March

The Saskatchewan RCMP said it was the first police agency in the province to have individuals trained to issue SaskAlerts and currently has 13 employees who can issue them.

The first time "a dangerous person/civil emergency broadcast-immediate emergency alert" was sent out in Saskatchewan was on March 10, RCMP said.

Six months ago, Meadow Lake RCMP used the system to warn people in the area of a suspect involved in "a serious assault."

In the Meadow Lake incident, SaskAlert was "identified as being the reason the subject's locations were reported to police," Saskatchewan RCMP said in an email.

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