By Jenn Watt
Most of us probably had the same experience at 3 a.m. on Thursday morning. Deep in sleep, we were jarred awake by our cellphones blaring. If you were like me, you were disoriented and alarmed and it likely took some time to get back to sleep.
It was an Amber Alert that woke us all up last week, sending an urgent message to our cellphones that two young boys had gone missing. Thankfully, they were found safe in Toronto with their grandfather, not long after.
It’s understandable that when you’re woken with a shock you feel upset. Emergency alerts, after all, are not meant to be calming.
However, for a certain segment of the population, being woken by an Amber Alert was startling enough to warrant a complaint – not an email to the OPP or a call placed to a consumer hotline, but directly to 911.
There were enough of these calls that the OPP issued a press release asking people to reserve their complaints for other venues and to stop calling emergency services because they’re annoyed.
It shouldn’t need to be said, but given the reaction from the last Amber Alert, perhaps it does: calling 911 should be reserved for emergencies. Not just because it wastes the time of the call taker, but also because you’re monopolizing resources that are badly and imminently needed – because, well, they’re there for emergencies.
So far, there aren’t consequences for calling 911 frivolously.
OPP Staff Sergeant Stacey Whaley told the Echo most people who call to complain don’t identify themselves and there are no laws against the practice.
Complainers aside, some say our new system of public alerts could be fine-tuned as we move forward. City News interviewed a University of Toronto policy expert, Sunil Johal, who suggested that Ontario take cues from Americans, who have developed a two-tier emergency alert system.
For example, when you’re sleeping, you’re unlikely to be of any help in finding missing children, however you should still be woken to be warned about a natural disaster endangering your life. The system could be tweaked to allow certain alerts through under specific circumstances.
Maybe the alert system will change in the years to come.
What we know right now is that in 2019, Amber Alerts have been working. Of the last five issued, four assisted in locating missing children and one resulted in the apprehension of a suspect. That’s a pretty good track record.
What we should all be able to agree on is that some things are worth losing sleep over.