Emergency alert system now active in Canada

Emergency alert system now active in Canada

A national public alert system came into operation for Canadian broadcasters last week, but the CRTC says not all broadcasters were ready.

As of March 31, 2015 the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission required all Canadian radio stations, over-the-air television stations, cable and satellite companies, and video-on-demand services  to be able to issue emergency alert messages to localized audiences.

Alerts can now be issued by local emergency management officials such as police, fire and public health officials for events such as forest fires, floods, tornados and Amber Alerts.

But five providers are still not ready.

Bell, Bell Aliant, MTS in Winnipeg, Shaw and Quebec's Sogetel have all been given an extra six months to comply.

"It's quite concerning and quite disappointing to the CRTC," said Steven Harroun, the director general of strategic policy.

"They need to be able to interrupt the programming. The problems they're having are either older distribution platforms or older set-top boxes that don't support the interruptions of alerts. They're having to migrate customers to new set-top boxes. They're trying to find some back room technological solutions or even some software solutions."

"The commission has not taken this lightly," he said.

The providers have been told they must write to their affected customers and must also send written progress reports to the CRTC every two weeks.

A national alert system has been in place since 2010 and broadcasters were encouraged to use it voluntarily. But broadcasters were not using it, and in August 2014 CRTC mandated that all broadcasters use the service.

Campus and community-based and Aboriginal broadcasters have until March 31, 2016 to comply with the new requirements.