Categorized | Editorial

Set up a cellphone-based alert system

Posted on 28 September 2016 by admin

Receiving a prompt alert during a dangerous emergency could spell the difference between life and death. But Canadians still don’t have a modern, cellphone-based warning system, and there’s no good excuse for this lack of protection.

The United States has used wireless emergency alerts for more than four years, advising people of threats ranging from imminent tornadoes to terrorist attacks.

The system was deployed to warn New Yorkers about Ahmad Khan Rahami, the object of a police man-hunt in connection with a bombing that wounded 29 people in Manhattan.

But this isn’t yet possible in Canada.

The best this country can offer is a system that relies on broadcasters to interrupt programming and air an emergency alert message to audiences that are deemed at risk. That came into effect last year. But it doesn’t do much for people who aren’t listening to the radio or watching TV when a crisis occurs.

With more than 80 per cent of Canadians owning a mobile device, and two-thirds owning a smartphone, it would make a great deal of sense to adopt wireless alerts that can instantly notify anyone with a cellphone when a serious emergency looms.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission is considering creation of a mobile-phone warning system, with a pilot project recently wrapping up in Durham Region involving mock alerts sent to selected cellphone users. It’s hard to see why this experiment was necessary.

Canadian wireless industry officials estimate it could still take two years to put a mobile-alert system in place. In fact, one should have been established years ago. There’s no shortage of models. Australia set one up after a series of deadly bush fires in 2009. And wireless emergency alerts have been issued in the United States since April 2012.

Apparently, there is some debate over whether it would be better for Canada to wait, let smartphone technology spread, and install a more sophisticated system capable of transmitting photographs and longer messages. If GPS tracking were used, it would be possible to send precisely focused alerts to smaller groups of people deemed in particular peril.

While this may be an advantage in certain situations, such as a shooter prowling in a specific city block or building, the vast majority of emergencies likely to confront Canadians are more sweeping in nature.

Endangered Canadians deserve to be given potentially life-saving information as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, until a cellphone-based warning system is finally in place, many will continue to be caught off-guard by natural disasters and other catastrophes.

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