Exploring attitudes towards Wireless Public Alerting System in Canada—Executive Summary

Research Purpose and Objectives

As part of a Wireless Service Providers (WSPs) participation in Canada’s National Public Alerting System (NPAS), the CRTC requires WSPs to distribute wireless emergency alerts on their LTE networks. This means that all WPA-enabled wireless devices, connected to LTE networks, will receive a test or alert, warning Canadians in an affected area of imminent or unfolding hazards to life.

Included in the WSP’s obligation to participate in WPA, is the requirement for WSPs to also participate in a campaign to educate and create awareness among wireless users about the new WPA feature in the larger National Public Alerting System. In the Telecom Decision CRTC 2018-85, the CRTC set out an expectation that WSPs send a minimum of one SMS text message in 2018 and one in 2019 to notify their LTE customers that they will receive test alerts in regions where such tests are being issued.

Although NPAS testing over broadcasting mediums has been occurring since 2015 and WSPs promoted the WPA in 2018 and 2019, actual emergency wireless alerts, as well as the yearly test alerts, continue to generate a number of complaints to various alerting stakeholders. The nature of complaints received following actual or test alerts indicates that individuals hold a range of sentiments towards the system and the way in which it currently operates. In some cases, there appears to be some confusion with respect to who owns, operates, and regulates NPAS. For these reasons, the CRTC has interest in assessing the public’s general understanding, sentiments and satisfaction with respect to the NPAS.

Further, complaints to date suggest Canadians are not aware of the existence of WPA or that such alerts could be received by their mobile devices. The lack of knowledge among wireless users about the existence of WPA’s addition to the NPAS is of concern to the CRTC.

The research was designed to address the following objectives:

Summary of Findings

National Public Alerting System

The majority of Canadians are aware of Canada’s National Public Alerting System (NPAS; 86%). Most are aware that the system includes Amber Alerts (87%) and natural disasters (forest fires, tornadoes, or chemical spills; 74%), though many also erroneously believe the NPAS issues boil water or air quality advisories (41%). Canadians have a clear understanding of the importance of a NPAS, as close to nine-in-ten say the system is very important (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale; 86%). However, satisfaction is slightly muted, with only 60% saying they are very satisfied with the system (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale).

Wireless Public Alerts

The vast majority of Canadians (96%) recall receiving a Wireless Public Alert at least once in the past 12 months. Most say that they received this alert via their cellphone (92%), and fewer recall an alert on TV (31%) or radio (24%). Thus, it follows that most Canadians are aware that they can receive emergency alerts on their cellphone (97%). However, only half of Canadians (51%) are aware that only compatible devices connected to an LTE can receive alerts, signaling an opportunity for education.

Awareness of cellphone alerting is largely driven by the alerts themselves, with two-thirds of Canadians (62%) becoming aware of cellphone alerts by receiving one. Other notable sources of awareness include TV (11%), radio (8%), being notified by a wireless service provider (7%), news (6%), and social media (3%).

Most Canadians are satisfied with Wireless Public Alerts (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale; 75%). While the ability to send out cellphone alerts are generally regarded as a beneficial feature of the NPAS (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale; 89%) and alerts are rated as clear and easy to understand (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale; 95%), fewer Canadians (58%) believe the cellphone alerts they receive are relevant to them. This may be due to the size of distribution area, as the primary stated reason for Canadians’ dissatisfaction with alerts is that they did not apply to their area (44%).

Despite some dissatisfaction with alert relevance, few Canadians feel they have received too many alerts in the past year (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale; 9%) and a majority agree that bi-annual tests are the right amount (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale; 69%). Further, few say that they would like the option to opt-out of cellphone alerts completely (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale; 15%). Therefore, these results suggest that dissatisfaction with cellphone alerts does not stem from a desire to receive fewer alerts or the inability to opt-out of alerts, but rather the distribution areas being too broad.

Amber Alerts

Satisfaction with Amber Alerts exceeds that of the NPAS generally, with most (83%) Canadians saying they are satisfied with Amber Alerts (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale). Further, most agree that Amber Alerts are important for ensuring the safety of children (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale; 93%).

Among those who are dissatisfied with Amber Alerts, the primary cause of dissatisfaction is that the alert does not apply to their area (35%). Other notable causes of dissatisfaction included not receiving the alert at all (18%) and the alert sounds waking them up (18%), being too loud (7%), or not knowing how to turn the alert off (7%).

Despite dissatisfaction with alert distribution areas for both the NPAS and Amber Alerts, most Canadians believe that Amber Alerts should remain province or territory-wide (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale; 79%) and that Amber Alerts should be received by everyone, even if they are inconvenient (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale; 86%). Thus, public sentiment for Amber Alerts appears to be in favour of child protection over the inconvenience of alerting. As a result, there is limited support for the ability to opt-out of alerts (6 or 7 on a 7-point scale; 16%).

Demographic Differences

A number of additional demographic and subgroup analyses were also undertaken, including age, gender, region, satisfaction with the NPAS, and recipient of past 12-month alerts. Differences were noted in the following areas:


Canadians aged 16-54 differ from their older 55+ counterparts in a number of ways:


Women generally view the NPAS, WPA, and Amber Alerts more favourably. Differences between genders include:


The regions tested included the Prairies (Manitoba, Alberta, and Saskatchewan), the Atlantic provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, and PEI), and the Territories (Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon). Regional differences exist on most measures of NPAS, WPA, and Amber Alerts, including:

Past 12-month Alerts:

Canadians who have received an alert in the past 12 months generally view the system more favourably and are better informed about the NPAS, WPA, and Amber Alerts. More specifically, those who recall an alert are more likely to:

Strategic implications

The results of this research suggest that most Canadians support the NPAS, including WPA and Amber Alerts. The research also provides information to be considered for future updates to regulatory measures:


A telephone survey was conducted among 1,400 Canadians, aged 16 years and older, who have a wireless device connected to a wireless service provider.

The sample consisted of a national random probability sample of cell phone numbers. Kantar utilized random digit dialling (RDD) for the sample frame that includes cell phone numbers. The RDD approach ensures that all cell numbers are given an equal probability of being selected thereby minimizing sampling bias. Random sampling will also provide representation among subscribers to various WSPs, Indigenous communities, Anglophone and Francophone markets, and a variety of demographics including age, gender, education and disability.

A pre-test consisting of 10 completed English interviews and 10 completed French interviews was undertaken on April 15, 2020. Changes were made to question wording for clarity and to reduce survey length. As a result, these interviews were excluded from the final data set. The survey was in field from November 26 to December 13, 2020.

A sample of 1,400 members of the general population 16 years and older will provide a confidence interval of +/-2.6%, 19 times out of 20.

Contract Value

The total contract value for the project was $108,805.29 including applicable taxes.

Statement of Political Neutrality

I hereby certify as a representative of Kantar that the deliverables fully comply with the Government of Canada political neutrality requirements outlined in the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada and Procedures for Planning and Contracting Public Opinion Research. Specifically, the deliverables do not include information on electoral voting intentions, political party preferences, standings with the electorate or ratings of the performance of a political party or its leaders.

Tanya Whitehead
Senior Director, Public Practice Leader