This smartphone screen capture shows a false incoming ballistic missile emergency alert sent from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency system on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Months after false Hawaii missile alert, Canada ‘finalizing’ warning protocol

The mistaken Jan. 13 alert from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency urging people to seek immediate shelter was rescinded 38 minutes later

Almost a year after a false ballistic missile alert terrified Hawaii, Canada is ”finalizing” a protocol for notifying the public of a genuine airborne threat of mass destruction.

Internal federal government memos and emails obtained through the Access to Information Act show the early-morning Jan. 13 alert that sent people in the tropical U.S. state scurrying for cover soon had Canadian officials scrambling to figure out their own system for informing the public of an incoming missile.

The mistaken Saturday alert from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency urging people to seek immediate shelter was rescinded 38 minutes later, prompting numerous questions.

In Canada, federal officials had received at least half a dozen media inquiries by midday Monday asking what the government would do in the event of a nuclear missile attack.

READ MORE: Hawaii missile-alert mistake feeds doubts about a real emergency

Officials scheduled a teleconference to “clarify roles and responsibilities” between Public Safety Canada and National Defence and co-ordinate messaging across both departments, the newly released notes say.

Public Safety briefing materials dated Jan. 15 say it was presumed that any early-warning system with respect to a missile launch would rest with Defence and the Canadian Forces, but “this assumption would need to be verified.”

The federal Government Operations Centre, a central emergency-management hub, was “currently engaged in developing a notification protocol” with Defence related to a missile attack, the notes add. The protocol would allow information to be shared with federal agencies as well as provincial and territorial emergency management organizations.

But there was a snag.

Canada’s National Public Alerting System — known as Alert Ready — did not specifically provide for the threat of a potential missile strike, instead focusing on domestic calamities such as floods, fires, severe weather, chemical spills and terrorist incidents. Alerts have been distributed via television and radio broadcasts and, as of recently, through messages to mobile phones.

READ MORE: Did you get the message? Canada tests its emergency alert system

The only federal department connected to the alerting system was Environment and Climate Change Canada, to issue severe-weather alerts.

“ECCC has no mandate to issue an alert related to a potential missile strike,” the documents say.

Public Safety wasn’t even sure if the department could send out a nation-wide alert instantly. Warnings had generally been localized, proceeding from one province to another with the movement of a weather system.

A Canadian alert about a missile strike would likely come from the Prime Minister’s Office, the notes say.

Officials had a better sense of the planned Missile Launch Notification Protocol a few days later, more extensive briefing materials dated Jan. 18 indicate.

Once a missile was in the sky, the Canadian Forces would tell the Government Operations Centre immediately and the centre would, in turn, inform the emergency management community by email if there were no threat.

“If there is a potential or actual threat to Canada or Canadian interests, the (operations centre) will initiate a conference call with the relevant key partners to share information and co-ordinate the appropriate whole-of-government response.”

READ MORE: Hawaii volcano shoots lava into sky; evacuations ordered

Officials saw several problems with having the Government Operations Centre issue a public bulletin through Alert Ready about a missile strike.

There would need to be careful consideration of legal liability and using the centre could create an overlap with established channels, resulting in duplicate messaging “that could potentially add to overall confusion.”

Notes prepared some weeks later flesh out the plan.

In the event of a missile attack, NORAD, which safeguards North American airspace, would inform Defence, which would then notify “appropriate officials.”

“Canadians would then be notified through all available channels, including the media and social media,” the notes say. “Emergency alerts are typically issued by the provincial or territorial emergency management agencies which are responsible for the ‘on-the-ground’ response.”

However, some work remains on the finer points.

Federal agencies are “finalizing details” of the Missile Launch Notification Protocol said Karine Martel, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Canada.

“The details of the protocol will be implemented in due course.”

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Ecosocialists nominate candidate for Stikine

Edward Quinlan is the new party’s regional director for Skeena and Bulkley Valley regions

World Maritime Day – Sept. 24

Sustainable shipping for a sustainable planet

‘Water Quality Advisory’ lifted for Prince Rupert

Some Prince Rupert residents are still under a ‘Boil Water Notice’

Liberals and Greens yet to announce North Coast candidates

North Coast candidates have until two weeks before the election to name contenders

B.C.’s top doctor thanks supporters after revealing threats over COVID-19 measures

Dr. Bonnie Henry says COVID-19 has caused some people to lash out in anger and frustration out of fear

97 distressed horses, cats and dogs seized from farm in Princeton

RCMP assisted as BC SPCA executed search warrant

NDP, Greens divided on pace of child care improvements in B.C. election campaign

NDP Leader John Horgan recommitted to $10-a-day child care and blamed the Greens for not supporting his efforts

BC Liberal Leader talks drug addiction in the Lower Mainland

Drug addiction and public safety a top priority says Andrew Wilkinson

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Pandemic derails CP Holiday Train

Canadian Pacific will work to get donations to food banks while also producing an online music concert

Vanderhoof’s Brian Frenkel takes on top job in tough times

We can get through this, new local government leader says

Local councils important, Horgan says as municipal conference ends

B.C. NDP leader says ‘speed dating’ vital, online or in person

Penticton woman sentenced to one year in prison for manslaughter of teen boyfriend

Kiera Bourque, 24, was sentenced for manslaughter in the 2017 death of Penticton’s Devon Blackmore

Most Read