By Colin Burrowes
Like most Ontarians who had a chance to slumber in on Sunday morning, I was buzzed awake with an emergency alert. A nuclear emergency? Where? What? Huh? Pickering, not Kincardine? Okay, never mind. But sleep was already out of my grasp by that point.
Then, while contemplating what I would do with my Sunday morning, I learned that relieved citizens of Pickering could save their potassium iodine pills for future use. The Ontario Emergency Alert Service had sent the message out in error. Across Ontario we could all breathe a sigh of relief knowing we are running some of the safest nuclear power generating facilities in the world and the people of Pickering are safe.
Later in the day I saw CBC News videos discussing what may have happened and some of the experts they interviewed compared the incident to amber alerts that arrive at inconvenient times. It’s hardly a comparable situation. Yes, it sucks to be jolted awake, or to have your dinner party interrupted by that annoying sound your phone makes when an alert comes in, but I think trying to find a missing child is a little more important than our comfort.
Now, back to this morning and blunder with the emergency alert system.
The province has apologized for the error and is investigating to determine what happened so they can prevent it from occurring again.
A problem that has been brought up by this emergency alert mistake is that if too many false warnings go out, people might start to ignore it. It will be a system that only works as well as the boy who cried wolf.
Some of the Pickering area residents who were interviewed said they were confused by the alert because it was different that the system that they have heard tested in their area. A system not unlike the warning system set up around Bruce Power, which includes loud sirens wailing.
What seems to have bugged most Ontarians about the incident is that after receiving the false warning, confusion reigned for almost two hours even though Ontario Power Generation tweet out a message saying it was an error within 20 minutes of the original alert, which was sent shortly after 7:20 a.m.
The “all clear” message though the Ontario Emergency System did not go out until 9:11 a.m.
So let’s just hope that the next time we see an alert about a nuclear emergency, it clearly states it is part of a training exercise, as this message supposedly was. Or better yet, let’s hope we don’t wake up to the words nuclear emergency at all.
I’m sure we’d all like an emergency alert system we can have faith in.