OPP blame software update issue after Amber Alert didn’t go to all Ontario cellphones

Nick Westoll takes a closer look at how and when Amber Alerts are issued in Ontario.

Ontario Provincial Police officers say a software update stopped a recent Amber Alert from going out to all cellphones in the province.

The initial alert was requested by the OPP Wednesday evening after a baby was reportedly abducted in the Roseneath area, which is roughly 30 minutes north of Cobourg. The alert was cancelled after the child was found safely. Officers said the baby’s father was taken into custody.

However, that alert failed to go provincewide. Typically Amber Alerts are sent across Ontario since previous abduction suspects and victims have occasionally been found hundreds of kilometres away from where they were last seen.

The OPP announced it was probing the cause of the technical issue and on Friday an update said officers found out why the alert’s release was impacted.

“It’s been identified, fixed and we’re working on a plethora of backups to make sure this never happens again,” OPP spokesperson Bill Dickson told CityNews.

He said there was an automated, third-party software update that prevented the alert from being sent into the national system so it could be distributed throughout Ontario.

Dickson said officers contacted Emergency Management Ontario, which has separate access to the alert system and is responsible for sending weather- and other emergency-related information, asking the agency to step in and send a targeted message to cellphones in the immediate region.

He said officers found an abandoned car connected to the accused and that they believed the man and the child were walking not far from it.

“They were very confident no one had picked them up and they were on foot in the immediate area,” Dickson said, adding the alert was published through other means such as the Amber Alert website, social media and certain other mediums.

“We were still able to get the message out to the area where we were pretty sure this person was.”

RELATED: What’s Ontario’s criteria for issuing an Amber Alert and how does the system work?

Going forward, there are backup protocol in case automated updates “outside of the OPP’s control” prevent a provincewide update and that there is manual access to the system. Dickson said the new, manual override procedures will be actively reviewed.

“There will be extensive testing and some of that might involve a live test,” he said.

“When an Amber Alert goes out, we know people will call 911 and they’ll be unhappy about being disturbed, but in the end if we can do something that can potentially save the life of a child it’s worth it.”

In Ontario, an Amber Alert is sent provincewide to all LTE-compatible devices through the National Alert Aggregation and Dissemination (NAAD) service, a key part of Canada’s national emergency alerting system better known as Alert Ready.

The NAAD, after receiving the request from OPP, is responsible for checking to ensure it meets the correct formatting and technical requirements before pushing it to the broadcast distributors.

The broadcast distributors (wireless, television, radio and cable and satellite operators) must relay that information through each of the mediums the companies operate.

A similar process is used by various government and emergency entities to warn about fires, biological threats, hazardous materials, air quality, falling objects, severe weather, national security, civil emergencies, animal danger, 911 outages and system tests.

It is not possible to opt out of receiving an Amber Alert since the CRTC requires the distribution of emergency alerts.

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