Area police welcome opportunity to use phone alerts for emergencies

The alerts would be localized and could be used to warn the public about active shooters

Police in the province have a new tool in their kit to send localized public safety emergency alerts.

“The alert ready system has been approved for use and endorsed by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police,” said Peter Leon, Barrie Police Corporate Communications Coordinator. “This is a tool, when necessary, will allow Barrie Police the opportunity to notify the public when there is a potential danger and what action they should take, whether that be shelter-in-place, or to make them aware of a very serious matter.”

The Globe and Mail makes reference to an Aug. 6 memo from a top senior public servant in the Ministry of the Solicitor General that tells local police chiefs how, where and when they can start issuing localized “public safety (policing) emergency alerts” in cases of severe and unconventional threats.

“It is very similar to the one we use for the Amber Alert process,” said Andrew Fletcher, South Simcoe Police Chief. “There is a format that you have to fill out. It has to meet certain criteria and then we will send it off to the OPP, to their provincial operations centre. It is very similar to what we do with the Amber Alert.”

Fletcher likes the fact the system gives police a greater ability to inform the community, specifically in a geographical area.

A public inquiry into the Nova Scotia mass shooting will look at issues like police access to alerting. During the killer’s rampage, police sent out warnings on Twitter just hours before the gunman was shot dead. The Globe and Mail reports authorities were crafting a direct-to-cellphone alert to tell Nova Scotians about the threat. But there was confusion around how police were to work with provincial public servants who issue the alert, and it never went out.

Leon said the Ontario alerts will be localized.

“There has to be a real sense of urgency and a real sense of severity. It would be an active ongoing occurrence.”

The technology to send localized alerts has existed in Canada since 2018. The Globe report said provincial public-safety ministries that control the issuing of these alerts have not always opened up their systems to police.

The alerts will be sent to people’s phones and broadcast on radio and television. Unlike Amber Alerts, which go out to millions of people across Ontario, Leon said the new system will be geographically distributed.

“We are happy to see something like this. Anything we can do to ensure the safety of our community is supported by law enforcement.”

Those comments were echoed by Fletcher, who said police have lobbied hard to allow for this system.

“It’s only for the most severe calls where we need to inform a specific community about an immediate concern or safety concern for themselves. An active shooter would be one type of case. Whether it’s a violent person in the community at large, even if they don’t have a gun, they could have knives or other weapons. It’s an opportunity for us to alert people to shelter-in-place or to avoid a certain area.”