P.E.I. EMO working to let Island police forces send out direct-to-cell emergency alerts

·4 min read

P.E.I.'s Emergency Measures Organization is in the process of enabling Island police to send out their own direct-to-cellphone emergency alerts.

The province uses Alert Ready — Canada's emergency alerting system — to deliver emergency notifications by means of radio and television bulletins as well as text messages. So far on Prince Edward Island, those alerts can be issued only by EMO officials.

But EMO staff would like police to have access to the system as well, to minimize potential delays in getting vital information to the public.

"We don't want to be a barrier to taking more time than [it] needs to, to issue those alerts," said Tanya Mullally, the province's emergency Management coordinator.

Most emergency alerts can me prepared in a matter of minutes, she said, but this would cut down on potential delays, particularly when something crops up after normal business hours.

"Most of these alerts — or all of these alerts — are immediate life-threatening… so this is just expediting access to the system."

New Brunswick RCMP were able to send out such an alert just last week, after a man fled the scene of a shooting at Riverview High School. He was arrested the next day in Nova Scotia, a province where police do not currently have the power to send out their own alerts.

Alerts to contain clear, concise guidance

EMO sends out test alerts in P.E.I. twice a year, in May and in November.

Mullally said the emergency alert messages issued by police will look very similar to the EMO test alerts Islanders are now used to receiving. The goal is to give clear and concise information on what's happening, and what the public is advised to do.

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC
Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

"During an Amber Alert, it might say: 'If you see a vehicle matching this description, call this number, don't interact with the individual,'" Mullally said.

"It'll give very specific language… whether it's evacuate or stay locked in your home or watch for this situation."

RCMP, municipal forces involved

Right now provincial EMO and RCMP managers are in the final stages of signing a memorandum of understanding to let Mounties access the Alert Ready system. Down the road, discussions are planned with province's three municipal police forces, to determine which of them would also like the power to let staff issue direct-to-cell alerts.

"They haven't confirmed that yet," said Mullally. "We haven't worked all through the logistics, but the offer will be presented to them."

She noted that some forces might prefer another force such as the P.E.I. RCMP to issue alerts on their behalf, rather than have local officers be trained on how to use the system.

Officials with both the Charlottetown Police and the Summerside Police confirm that meetings with EMO on emergency alerts have been scheduled for this month.

Mullally said that once agreements are in place, users will be identified and trained on common alerting protocols.

"Ideally, what I'd like to see is by the end of February, we could have all the individuals that want to be trained or are available to be trained have access to the system," she said.

Since the program began in 2015, the only non-test emergency alert to be issued by the provincial EMO was in August of 2020, when Summerside Police Service asked EMO to send out an Amber Alert for what was believed to be an abducted child.

Atlantic provinces working together

Currently, New Brunswick is the only Atlantic province to have a system in place that lets RCMP personnel send out emergency alerts. Officials with that province's Department of Justice and Public Safety told CBC News that enabling such access was accomplished fairly rapidly, with documentation and training complete in a matter of months.

"I honestly don't know how they were able to move things as quickly as they were," said Mullally. "It was shortly after the Nova Scotia shooting incident, so sometimes incidents like that motivate some quick change."

She said P.E.I.'s EMO is working with counterparts in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador to further police access to emergency alerts in the region.

"We work very closely together. We keep each other up to speed on it and we try to leverage each other's success… so that's what I'm focusing on, making sure that we do it well, not do it fast."

More from CBC P.E.I.