New Cellphone Alert System Test Goes Today

Mobile devices across Canada will be buzzing a little more than usual this week as emergency management officials test a new national public alert system.

Test signals are to be sent to millions of mobile users in Quebec around mid-morning today and across Ontario at 1:55 pm.

Cellphones, tablets and other devices will receive the signal in most of the rest of the country on Wednesday.

Depending on settings, users with compatible devices connected to an L-T-E network will hear a tone similar to an ambulance alarm or feel a vibration for eight seconds.

Devices that are turned off won't receive the signal but phone users will hear their conversations interrupted by a sound similar to a call waiting tone.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission ordered wireless providers to implement the system to distribute warnings of imminent safety threats such as tornadoes, floods, Amber Alerts or terrorist threats.

Martin Belanger is Director of Public Alerting with Pelmorex — the company that developed the system with federal and provincial agencies. He says this is all about safety. "That's really the goal of the system, when there's a situation that poses a threat to life, that's when the authorities may decide to issue an alert for those that are affected by the situation," Belanger says.

The alert messages will be identified as tests and will not require Canadians to take steps to secure their safety. It's just a dry run, according to Belanger.