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When disaster strikes — be it a tornado, a toxic spill or a terrorist attack — response time is crucial to minimizing the damage.
That’s why it may be surprising that no national system exists to ensure the public receives government alerts fast enough in case of an emergency.
Soon, however, Canada may have two emergency alerting systems — which is one too many, according to Public Safety Canada, the government department tasked with creating the National Public Alerting System (NPAS).
Public Safety has been working on the NPAS since 2006, when it took over the file from Industry Canada.
The second system would be implemented by Pelmorex, the company that owns the Weather Network and its French counterpart MétéoMédia, under the direction of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
In exchange for building the alerting system, Pelmorex wants the CRTC to grant its application to remain on basic service by all cable and satellite TV companies.
Both systems envision a central operations centre that would aggregate alerts from all levels of governments, then send them out to broadcasters and other “last mile” distributors.
The NPAS would be funded through cost sharing agreements between the federal, provincial and territorial governments — at an estimated total cost of $15 or $16 million.
Pelmorex’s start-up costs of just more than $2 million, as well as operational costs starting at about another $2 million per year, would be completely absorbed by the company, said Paul Temple, Pelmorex’s Senior Vice President of Regulatory & Strategic Affairs, without raising the $0.23 rate that each cable subscriber pays every month for the Weather Network.
And while neither system has been built yet, both are estimated to be up and running by the end of next year.
Two systems may cause delays
In a Jan. 16 status report to the CRTC, Public Safety affirmed its jurisdiction as the lead department on the NPAS project, and stated it was “on target for completion in 2010.”
In the report, Public Safety also outlined its concerns over CRTC’s proposal to create a separate alerting system.
“Change in direction could result in losing the existing momentum towards meeting the goal of a national alerting system for Canadians. The imposition of an additional and possibly separate CRTC directed solution could result in delays for public alerting in Canada by diverting the focus of broadcasters/distributors,” the report stated.
“In addition it could create a duplication of efforts as many of the current issues being addressed by NPAS would also have to be addressed by any alternative approach.”
“Lastly, it is questionable that an alternative solution with the proposed capability of NPAS could be rolled out earlier than the 2010 NPAS target date.”
A CRTC spokeswoman declined to comment on the Pelmorex application because it is still under review.
However, according to comments made at a Feb. 2008 Senate committee meeting by Scott Hutton, Associate Executive Director of Broadcasting for the CRTC, the commission imposed a two-year deadline in Feb. 2007 for the broadcasting industry to voluntarily build and operate a national alerting system.
“If a national emergency alert system has not been implemented on a voluntary basis by Mar. 1, 2009, the Commission will use its powers to designate a single entity to operate the system,” Hutton said at the time. “This project is of the utmost importance to the safety and security of all Canadians, and we will do everything within our power to ensure the successful implementation of a reliable system.”
CRTC moves forward
So far the CRTC has been true to its word — last month it issued a Notice of Consultation, indicating it would review Pelmorex’s application because of “the continued absence of a national emergency alert system.”
The CRTC suggested that Pelmorex’s application could be approved temporarily “to ensure alerts remain available to distributors on a voluntary basis until Public Safety Canada’s National Public Alerting System can be implemented.”
But Temple said the financial investment needed to build the alerting system would only be worthwhile if his company’s application were granted permanently.
“We’re not going to invest all that money and then just have (the CRTC) take us off (basic service) in two years. We’ve made that clear to them already,” he said.
Temple said that Pelmorex is open to working with the government to make the two systems complementary.
“Does the government actually have to go through the expense of getting satellite feeds and all this other stuff if we’re going to do that?” he asked. “Wouldn’t their money be better spent enhancing some other element of the alerting system so that it’s more effective?”
He added that having two systems do the exact same thing didn’t make much sense.
“You don’t want to have to sit down, send the message out on this system, then run over and sit down at another terminal and send out a message on another system. That’s just dumb,” he said.
Source: Pelmorex Communications Inc.
Public Safety System
Source: National Public Alerting System status report 2009