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)

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The mistaken Jan. 13 alert from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency urging people to seek immediate shelter was rescinded 38 minutes later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The mistaken Saturday alert from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency urging people to seek immediate shelter was rescinded 38 minutes later, prompting numerous questions.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

Just Posted

The Northern Sea Wolf is set to arrive in Bella Coola June 19 and BCVT remains cautiously optimistic for a more “normal” 2021 season (Michael Wigle photo)
Summer ferry service to Bella Coola to start June 19

“We are optimistic for a good tourist season.”

A Category 3 fire ban will go into effect across the entire Cariboo Fire Centre beginning noon on Monday, June 21. (Pixaby photo)
Category 3 fire ban extends across entire Cariboo Fire Centre June 21

Campfires are still permitted, but no larger than half a metre high by half a metre wide

St. Joseph's Mission site is located about six kilometres from Williams Lake First Nation. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake First Nation planning ground analysis of land near former residential school

St. Joseph’s Mission Indian Residential School operated from 1886 to 1981

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The B.C. woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Central Okanagan Grade 12 grads are set to get $500 each after a more than $1 million donation from a Kelowna couple. (File photo)
B.C. couple donating $500 to every Grade 12 student in the Okanagan

Anonymous donors identified as Kelowna entrepreneurs Lance and Tammy Torgerson

Most Read