Thankfully, Monday was only a test run. Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast were warned to watch their mobile devices and broadcast media for an emergency alert message, but for many in Ontario and Quebec it never came.
Moving to the new Alert Ready system nationally makes a lot of sense as it was reported more than three quarters of people in this country now own smartphones. Modern communications technology is where most do business now and it is also where many will look first for breaking news. Wireless usage continues to increase, according to the Canadian Radio- Television Telecommunications Commission, which says more people in Canada now own smartphones than landlines. Recent studies by firm ComScore also show that more than half the time that Canadians spend online is now spent on various mobile devices.
Simply, if detailed information pertaining to an Amber Alert for a lost or missing child is available to a wider sooner, it is less likely that situation ends in tragedy. Should people know about a potentially deadly storm earlier, theoretically they can take precautions that will reduce the strain on public responders in the aftermath. Now, that’s not to say the system will solve everything or that it won’t lead to undue strain or hardship — one only has to look at a misfire in Hawaii’s system last year that told its residents a nuclear attack on the island from North Korea was imminent — the odds suggest there is merit in using new technology to spread alerts.
It is hoped that those responsible for this alert system will continue to hone the technology to get it right and it is equally important the public has patience with the minimal invasion of privacy that goes along with this testing.
During that testing process, it may be discovered that the system could be more reliable solely because the technology does not ensure that every user will have the connectivity needed to take appropriate actions. In some cases, regions of this country will have to invest in better technology in order to promote safety and effective mass communications.
This is one of those regions. The officials working on the public-private partnership known as the Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN) estimate that nearly one-sixth of this region remains a dead zone for cellular technology, nearly 40 per cent of the region does not have capacity for high-demand use, and in several areas, there is not adequate bandwidth to take advantage of the full capability of devices to download files, search the Internet, or transmit images.
EORN is presently canvassing county governments in hopes of coming up with more than $10 million to contribute to a $168-million effort to improve that service. It has received provincial approval and federal interest and a previous EORN connectivity project brought significant financial contribution from private sector technology firms.
While it represents a major spend of tax dollars that are already stretch far, this project must go forward. It will bring employment to the region in a competitive marketplace. It will allow tourists the connectivity they expect to enjoy their visits. It will allow youth education beyond the walls of their schools. And, perhaps most importantly, through improved emergency response times and alert systems, it just might save lives.