A television emergency alert program that has been in place for eight months now has cable subscribers raising an alarm of their own.
For a growing number of CityWest subscribers, the frequency and seemingly unimportant messages contained in the emergency alerts that interrupt normal programming — overriding the entire screen and audio — have become annoying.
Some customers took to expressing that annoyance on CityWest’s Facebook page.
“I understand the importance of an emergency broadcast, but [for] this fall, so far, it’s just normal Rupert weather. Not an emergency that Rupertites aren’t already used to,” wrote Owen Dickson.
The growing list of complaints led CityWest to make changes.
“Some of the alerts we were sending out weren’t necessarily threats to life – that was due to a problem with some of the equipment, so we had fixed that and from now on, it will only be threats … It was just a configuration in one of the machines,” said Chris Armstrong, CityWest sales and marketing manager.
The mandatory warnings, outlined in the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission’s Broadcasting Regulatory Policy CRTC 2014-444, require broadcasters such as CityWest to alert subscribers to dangerous wind or rainfall, tornadoes, forest fires, industrial disasters, tsunamis or other “messages containing information relating to imminent or unfolding threats to life and property” by March 31.
To that end, CityWest complied with the requirement and introduced the new emergency alert system.
“We publicized [the change] on our website and we publicized it on our Facebook page as well … before March 31, ,” said CityWest sales and marketing manager Chris Armstrong.
“When we first rolled it out, we didn’t receive any [customer feedback] … We did get a lot of complaints the last month or so as the weather has turned,” Armstrong said.
While CityWest doesn’t keep statistics of how many times they broadcast the messages, the company had been broadcasting environmental information messages based on inclement weather that weren’t necessarily threats to life or property.
“The information we get is actually sent out from the Weather Channel, so it’s sent to us and if there’s an alert that’s flagged as mandatory, we have to broadcast that alert.”
CityWest continues to conduct weekly tests of the alert system on Monday mornings from 2 – 5 a.m.