Alberta’s 600,000 square kilometres of territory is prone to natural disasters such as wildfires and flooding as well as thunderstorms bringing strong winds, significant rain and hail. Luckily, Alberta’s emergency alert system allows Albertans to be quickly informed of events that may cause harm or property damage.
Until 2011, emergency alerts were issued by the Emergency Public Warning System (EPWS) in response to both natural and man-made hazardous events. The system’s outdated reliance on analogue radio broadcasting infrastructure led to authorities to later replace it. This emergency alert was broadcast on television and radio.
In April 2018, after collaboration between the federal and provincial governments, wireless public alerts were launched. This system takes advantage of people’s increased connectivity, specifically their access to 4G LTE cellular networks. Wireless public alerting complements and extends the reach of the Alberta Emergency Alert which has also developed a social media presence and mobile app in recent years.
What you need to know about Alberta’s Emergency Alert System
The Emergency Alert system in Alberta issues alerts during incidents that have the potential to become a threat to people’s safety in their specific location or province-wide. The warnings are issued for various events and incidents from tornadoes to flooding to incidents involving hazardous materials.
There are two levels of warning:
- Information: People should be aware and be alert in case an emergency situation develops.
- Critical: There is an imminent life-threatening danger.
On television and radio, Information Alerts do not interrupt regular broadcasts while Critical Alerts will interrupt programming and provide information about a developing emergency. The wireless alerts will be sent directly to a phone and although it is not a text message it appears as one (you can’t reply).
Wireless alerts are sent via cell broadcast distribution which operates from cell towers but on a different channel to normal texts calls and data. Only towers in the vicinity of an emergency will broadcast these kinds of alerts and only cell phones connected to 4G LTE networks in the vicinity will receive them.
In Alberta, wireless public broadcasting will only be used in the event of a critical alert and it is not possible to opt out of the system; it is required by law that all compatible devices receive alerts broadcast in this way. It is not recommended to uninstall the Alberta Emergency app from compatible devices since users will be able to obtain more detailed information from the app when they receive an alert via the wireless system. Work is underway to prevent the emergency Alert app and the wireless alert system from both sounding the same critical alert on a user’s device. You can read more about the wireless alerts (and find out if your device is compatible) here.
The Alberta Emergency Alert app is available for Android and iOS. The app will inform users of Information Alerts using a regular ringtone and Critical Alerts using the same sound like the radio and television Critical Alerts. The app can be tailored by the user to inform them of alerts in their local area as well as selected areas of the province where family and friends are located.
What if I’m outside Alberta?
A nationwide alert system works alongside Alberta’s Emergency alerts and other alert systems in each province. You will not receive alerts for your home location if you’re away but you will receive alerts from the local area elsewhere in Canada if there is an emergency situation.
This is done because the alert is sent out via specific cell phone towers – only phones within range will receive alerts.
Why does this matter for insurance?
Mostly the Emergency Alert System is about keeping you and your loved ones safe. But it can also help you prepare for imminent disasters and give you time to take measures to protect yourself and your property.