Police departments in Ontario now have the ability to send out cellphone alerts to warn the public about emergencies and threats such as “active shooters”, according to a memo sent out by the Ministry of the Solicitor-General last week.
The memo obtained by The Globe and Mail reports how local police forces can send “public safety (policing) emergency alerts” in the event of severe threats.
The Globe says Ontario is trying to avoid the alert scenario that played out in Nova Scotia earlier this year, when a gunman went on a rampage and killed 22 people. Police in Nova Scotia resorted to issuing warnings on Twitter, despite an attempt to send out cellphone alerts, which were never issued because of the complex process involving public officials. A public inquiry into the mass shooting in Nova Scotia was recently announced.
According to the Solicitor-General’s office, Ontario police forces can send cellphone alerts if they “believe a public safety (policing) emergency alert would have a direct impact on saving lives.”
A central provincial-police operations centre in Ontario is ready to work with local police in situations where “the threat is neither isolated nor contained.”
“The message should notify the public what the danger is, and what actions they should take to stay safe such as ‘shelter in place,’” reads the memo, adding cellphone messages max out at 600 characters and TV and radio alerts can be up to 900 characters.
These cellphone alerts will be able to target a specific city, region, country or township, says the memo
“Alerts may be targeted to a city, region, country or township,” the memo says, meaning localized alerting instead of widespread messages such as Ontario Amber Alerts.
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police pressured the Solicitor-General’s office earlier this summer to review the gap in public alerting and access by police. The association said police, fire and paramedic services need to be asked about their alerting needs when it comes to “active shooters, missing persons and other localized emergencies.”
Police chiefs in Ontario were affected by the Nova Scotia tragedy and wanted to be prepared if a similar event happened in local jurisdictions.
“We believe we’ve needed a means for some time to alert citizens in the province about an impending threat that doesn’t fall into the parameters of an Amber Alert or an extreme-weather event,” said Detective-Superintendent Chris Newton, head of the association’s emergency-preparedness committee, earlier this summer.