Would you want to know about an approaching tornado, a nuclear accident or a lethal chemical spill in your community?

Today, more than ever, Canadians need to be prepared. Recent events, both at home and abroad, have underscored the importance of emergency preparedness and the crucial role advance warning plays when disaster strikes. Whether for weather-related emergencies or threats caused by human error or deliberate attack, a quick response can save lives and property. Particularly at risk in emergency situations are older Canadians who often require additional support and warning.

Remarkably, Canada still has no national public alerting system, unlike the United States where a national alert system on all television channels has been in place for decades.

In December, the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defense recommended the establishment of emergency public warning systems for all provinces and territories, one that could interrupt radio and television broadcasts during emergencies.

Such a system could be easily and efficiently put into place if the Canadian Radio- Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) approves the amendment of the broadcast license of Pelmorex Communications, the owner of The ather Network/ MétéoMédia specialty channels. The broadcaster has developed a national emergency alert service, the All Channel Alert service™ (ACA) that will enable Canadians to take necessary action in the event of an emergency. The aim is to ensure citizens are better prepared to ensure their safety and minimize damage to their property.

In light of the critical importance of timely information and alerts, particularly for older Canadians, CARP calls upon the CRTC to approve the proposal which would allow the service to be launched in some communities within 8 – 12 months.

Why is the ACA national alert service needed?
Currently, information on weather-related emergencies is made available by Environment Canada to Canadians directly through their website, or indirectly through the media. The Weather Network also broadcasts Environment Canada’s weather alerts, but only on its own channel. As a result, many Canadians may not be aware of the emergency, or may not receive information in a timely fashion.

The five most devastating natural disasters in Canadian history occurred in the past several years: the Saguenay flood of 1996, the Manitoba flood of 1997, the ice storm of 1998 followed in 2003 with forest fires in British Columbia and Hurricane Juan hammering Atlantic Canada.

Experts predict that with climatic change, weather-related emergencies will continue to accelerate. In addition, there is greater public concern about preparedness for emergencies caused by both human error and deliberate attack, ranging from chemical spills and forest fires to terrorist attacks.

Initially, the ACA emergency service will provide warning messages from Environment Canada about severe weather-related disturbances such as tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, hailstorms, or earthquakes. In due course, access to the ACA emergency alerting service system will be offered to other authorized government agencies in order to warn viewers of other public health and safety emergencies, such as hazardous chemical spills or nuclear mishaps.

How would the All Channel Alert emergency service work?
The message will take the form of a text message on your television screen. It may appear as a crawl across the screen or as a full page of text. The message will alert viewers to imminent threats caused by weather disturbances, natural disasters or other local emergencies. The service can accommodate both official languages, and an audio alert will address the needs of the visually impaired. No matter what television channel you are watching on cable or satellite, you will be notified immediately if an emergency warning is issued that affects you and your community.

The ACA service would be used to warn Canadians of threats from tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, hailstorms, earthquakes, forest fires, acts of terrorism, chemical spills and nuclear waste accidents. The benefits of this type of service are numerous: it is quick, efficient and can reach a large number of people in seconds, alerting them to imminent threats to life or property. The small cost to cable and satellite subscribers to implement such a system would be 8 cents a month – less than one dollar a year. Environment Canada or the appropriate authorized government agencies will determine how often the warnings will be repeated. All warnings will have been approved by either Environment Canada or the appropriate authorized agency. Procedures will also be in place to confirm all messages before they are sent.

What do experts have to say?
ACA is supported by leading advocates of emergency preparedness, as well as all levels of government, industry, and NGOs involved in emergency warning, mitigation, response and relief efforts including the Canadian Red Cross.

Environment Canada’s meteorological service has endorsed the ACA emergency alerting service as an excellent way for Canadians to learn about severe weather in their area.

In addition, the Senate Subcommittee on Canada’s Emergency and Disaster Preparedness, the Quebec Medical Examiner and the Chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry all have emphasized the need for an ACA emergency alerting-type system to better warn and protect the population of threats due to severe weather conditions.

The Canadian Emergency Preparedness Association (CEPA) endorses the proposed national emergency alert system as “having the potential to reduce human suffering and reduce loss of life from disaster.” The CEPA also encourages the ACA concept to be expanded to include radio stations in addition to television networks.

To view letters sent to the CRTC supporting the proposed emergency alert system, please click here.

What does CARP say?
“Canadian seniors, especially those who are isolated or homebound, will have peace of mind knowing that news of a disaster will be brought to their immediate attention. Even more important is the information about how to protect or save themselves. It could, of course, also save lives.

“Families and caregivers will also benefit from such a network because they will know that their loved ones will be aware of impending emergencies. Clearly, in an emergency families cannot always connect with each other in a timely fashion. Therefore they will have some assurance that everyone will have a greater possibility of effective response.”
-Judy Cutler & Bill Gleberzon, Advocacy Directors for Canada’s Association for the Fifty-Plus (CARP)

As an organization particularly concerned with the safety of Canada’s 50-plus citizens and one that advocates for a growing segment of the Canadian population, CARP fully supports ACA and the application for a national emergency broadcast system that is available to all Canadian cable and satellite subscribers.

As Canada’s population ages, we need to ensure, now more than ever, that a consistent national public alerting system is in place to protect those who need it most.

Fortunately, there is a broad consensus to address this fundamental issue. Almost 80 per cent of Canadians consider the concept of emergency warning messages displayed on all channels during regular programming to be either an excellent or a good idea. Moreover the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defense noted last December that the “provinces and territories have difficulty disseminating emergency-related information to its citizens.”

The proposed All Channel Alert public alerting service has the capability to implement this essential tool for the nation’s emergency preparedness strategy immediately.

How can you help?
Pelmorex must apply to the CRTC to amend its broadcasting license in order to provide the ACA emergency alerting service. Pelmorex also is requesting a rate increase of 8¢ per cable or satellite subscriber per month in order to offset the capital and operating costs of implementing the ACA emergency alerting service. Finally, Pelmorex is requesting that the CRTC authorize the broadcast of emergency alerts on every television channel of the cable and satellite company serving the area affected by the emergency.

(The CRTC is an independent government agency responsible for regulating and supervising Canada’s broadcasting in order to achieve the broadcasting policy objectives set out in the Broadcasting Act. It issues and amends broadcasting licenses and establishes regulations that apply to all broadcasting licensees. It reports to Parliament through the Minister of Canadian Heritage.)

The CRTC issued Broadcasting Notice of Public Hearing CRTC 2006-3 on March 2, 2006. The public is invited to file comments by April 6, 2006 with a hearing scheduled in Gateneau, Quebec on May 1, 2006. A decision would likely be made by the CRTC sometime in late 2006.

To show your support, for the All Channel Alert emergency alerting service, please click here.
Remember: the CRTC deadline for comments is April 6, 2006.
Or for more information about the All Channel Alert service, please visit www.allchannelalert.com.