Human error to blame for nuclear emergency alert false alarm

Pickering Nuclear Generating Station
An alert was sent to cellphones, radios and TVs across Ontario in error on the morning of Jan. 12.

Ontario’s solicitor general says human error and “several systemic issues” were to blame for an emergency alert that was sent out in error at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station earlier this year.

Sylvia Jones said the government regrets the serious concern many people felt as a result of the alert.

Thousands of residents received a notification on their cellphones, radios, and televisions on the morning of Jan. 12. The alert said there had been an incident at the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station.

Pickering Nuclear Generating Station Alert 1
A pre-scripted nuclear message was sent out to the public in error on Jan. 12.

It went on to say there was no abnormal release of radioactivity from the station and emergency staff was responding to the situation.

A report issued Thursday from the chief of Emergency Management Ontario found communication failures and lack of training were part of the reason the alert was sent to residents across the province.

It says the first alert was sent shortly after 7 a.m. by an employee on the live system, instead of the training system.

The report says the employee and another colleague did not know how to take corrective action and immediately sought direction from supervisors.

The investigation found that “no clear instruction” was given to the workers immediately following the issue of the first alert.

It took 108 minutes for a second alert to be sent out notifying residents that “NO active nuclear situation” had taken place and there was no danger to the public or environment.

Jones said Provincial Emergency Operations Centre performs routine testing of the public alerting system twice daily to ensure the alerting system is functional and available to issue an alert in the event of an emergency.

“On January 12th, one of these test messages was sent via the live public alerting system rather than the test system. The investigation concluded that while the immediate cause was human error, there were several systemic issues that contributed to both the false alert and the delay in issuing a cancellation,” said Jones. “As I did on January 12th, I unreservedly apologize for the alarm and anxiety caused to people across the province and I want to assure the public that everything possible is being done to prevent a similar event in the future. Emergency Management Ontario has already taken significant corrective action in key areas, including planning, procedures, operations, communications and staff training.”

Jones added she is confident the actions taken to address the gaps brought to light by the investigation will make Ontario’s emergency management system stronger.