In the summer of 2016, tornadoes swirled in Saskatchewan skies. Below, alarms buzzed on residents’ smartphones, notifying them about the emergency situation and advising them on how to stay safe.
It has been a year since Saskatchewan implemented SaskAlert, the province’s comprehensive emergency public alerting program. It provides critical information about emergencies so individuals can take action to protect themselves, their families and their property.
The main determining factor for issuing an emergency public alert is whether there is an immediate threat to individuals’ lives and safety. Alerts may be issued for emergencies such as tornadoes, flash floods or train derailments that require evacuations.
Because Saskatchewan uses the National Alert and Aggregation Dissemination (NAAD) central alerting system, alerts only have to be issued once to be shared on multiple communication platforms, including radio and television broadcasts, cable and satellite distributors, wireless phones and internet providers. This means alerts can be issued quickly and efficiently in emergency situations. The nation-wide emergency public alerting initiative allows consistent alerts to be sent and received in all provinces and territories in Canada.
SaskAlert provides a single point of entry for notifications about emergency events as they unfold.
In addition to facilitating broadcast immediate alerts, SaskAlert allows for authorized, trained users to issue secondary-level alerts, known as emergency advisory alerts. These alerts are shared through SaskAlert.ca, a smartphone app (SaskAlert) and other communication platforms that choose to distribute this level of alerts.
Provincial ministries, agencies, Crown corporations and partner organizations such as Environment Canada can issue alerts in Saskatchewan.
Authorized, trained representatives from urban municipalities, rural municipalities and First Nations can also issue emergency public alerts for their communities. Local governing jurisdictions are not mandated to participate in the SaskAlert program; it is the decision of the jurisdiction’s elected officials if they are going to participate.
The Government of Saskatchewan opted to share responsibility for emergency public alerting with local authorities as they have the responsibility to manage emergencies in their communities. Local authorities also have the ability to maintain the alert, update it as the emergency unfolds and end it when the situation resolves. Sharing the emergency public alerting responsibility with community leaders has the added advantage of allowing alerts to be issued promptly with as much information as possible.
The Government of Saskatchewan offers an in-person training course that walks authorized users through the program policies and procedures and provides training on the NAAD system. SaskAlert also provides templates to assist in creating alerts and has support staff on call 24 hours a day.
To date, close to half of the communities in the province have completed the training and can issue emergency public alerts for their communities. New communities continue to sign onto the program weekly.
App and website
SaskAlert includes a website and smartphone app where all alerts for the province will be displayed to ensure individuals have access to the information they need during an emergency.
Once individuals download the SaskAlert app, they can choose to receive emergency public alerts for the entire province or for particular communities. They can also choose to receive alerts while travelling in Saskatchewan by selecting a “follow me” function on the app. In case of an emergency, a tone will sound – even when the app is closed. Individuals can then find information on the emergency and instructions on how to proceed.
Individuals can visit SaskAlert.ca to find more information, such as evacuation routes or tips on coping with a boil-water advisory. SaskAlert.ca was created to host all the information community officials would like to share with residents regarding a particular emergency.
The Government of Saskatchewan continues to look at future opportunities to enhance emergency public alerting within the province. Some potential enhancements to SaskAlert are below:
- adopting new technologies to communicate with members of the public,
- increasing local partnerships,
- expanding provincial, regional and national partnerships, and
- collaborating across borders both within Canada and with neighbouring states.
For more information about SaskAlert please contact Jean Longpre at firstname.lastname@example.org.