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The mistaken Jan. 13 alert from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency urging people to seek immediate shelter was rescinded 38 minutes later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The mistaken Saturday alert from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency urging people to seek immediate shelter was rescinded 38 minutes later, prompting numerous questions.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

Independent candidate Martin Holzbauer, BC NDP candidate Nicole Halbauer, and incumbent BC Liberal candidate Ellis Ross. (Jake Wray/Clare Rayment/Black Press)
Skeena candidates talk Indigenous issues

Residential schools, Coastal GasLink Pipeline, and rights and title among issues addressed

Independent candidate Martin Holzbauer, BC NDP candidate Nicole Halbauer, and incumbent BC Liberal candidate Ellis Ross are running in the Skeena riding. (Jake Wray/Clare Rayment/Black Press)
Skeena candidates talk natural resources

Mining, oil and gas, and forestry are important industries in the Skeena riding

(File image)
Vehicle collides with propane line causing explosion in Thornhill

Driver sustained severe burns, was taken to Lower Mainland in air ambulance

The plan to build a staircase to the Bench includes a channel to more easily transport bicycles up and down. (Photo courtesy City of Terrace)
Staircase to Bench subject of City grant application

Would connect lower Eby St. to upper Eby St.

The car was trapped, with its driver inside, in a ditch off Hirsch Creek Main near Onion Lake overnight Monday (Oct. 19). Oct. 20, 2020. Kitimat RCMP photo.
Man found after spending overnight stuck in car in a ditch near Onion Lake

Kitimat RCMP said the man was stuck there overnight for about 10 hours

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

BC Liberals Leader Andrew Wilkinson, BC Greens Sonia Furstenau, BC NDP John Horgan (The Canadian Press photos)
British Columbians vote in snap election called during COVID-19 pandemic

At dissolution, the NDP and Liberals were tied with 41 seats in the legislature, while the Greens held two seats

100 Mile Conservation officer Joel Kline gingerly holds an injured but very much alive bald eagle after extracting him from a motorist’s minivan. (Photo submitted)
B.C. driver thought he retrieved a dead bald eagle – until it came to life in his backseat

The driver believed the bird to be dead and not unconscious as it turned out to be

Chastity Davis-Alphonse took the time to vote on Oct. 21. B.C’s general Election Day is Saturday, Oct. 24. (Chastity Davis-Alphonse Facebook photo)
B.C. reconciliation advocate encourages Indigenous women to vote in provincial election

Through the power of voice and education Chastity Davis-Alphonse is hopeful for change

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls has released a report on mental health and policing in the city. (File photos)
White Rock’s top cop wants to bill local health authority for lengthy mental-health calls

‘Suggestion’ included in nine-page review calling for ‘robust’ support for healthcare-led response

A Le Chateau retail store is shown in Montreal on Wednesday July 13, 2016. Le Chateau Inc. says it is seeking court protection from creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act to allow it to liquidate its assets and wind down its operations.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Clothing retailer Le Chateau plans to close its doors, files for CCAA protection

Le Chateau said it intends to remain fully operational as it liquidates its 123 stores

RCMP stock photo (Black Press)
Charges laid against Prince George man, 39, in drug trafficking probe

Tyler Aaron Gelowitz is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 18

Most Read