Nuclear attack warning in Winnipeg was a prank: Here's how to spot fake alerts

ABOVE: Winnipeg residents alarmed by unfounded nuclear attack warning alerts.

A loudspeaker blaring a warning of an imminent nuclear attack against Canadians startled many Winnipeg residents Sunday evening.

“Six nuclear missiles have been launched,” a robot-sounding voice said over a speaker in Winnipeg’s trendy neighbourhood, Osborne Village.

“All Canadian residents should seek out a fallout shelter immediately. If members of the Canadian armed forces direct you to a fallout shelter, please follow them for your safety. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be speaking on all stations shortly,” the alert stated.


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But it turns out the cryptic message turned out to be a prank that was taken from an online video, according to Winnipeg police.

“It is not part of any official alert system and it was likely played through a home speaker system,” police said. “This is obviously a very serious thing … It was a very troublesome message and we would like to find out who did this.”

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Although the alert turned out to be a hoax, residents were visibly shaken, not knowing if nuclear weapons were indeed barrelling towards Canada.

“One woman was visibly shaken, saying, ‘should I head to the basement? Should I get out of here?’ She didn’t know what to do because that’s how real it sounded. It was very weird,” Jon Lovlin, managing editor of Global News Winnipeg, who heard the warning, said.

So how do you know if an emergency alert is real or just a prank?

How to know if the emergency alert is fake

Alerts are sent out by the federal or provincial governments and are used to warn the public about emergencies such as fires, tsunamis or terrorist attacks. The alert can be sent out over television, radio, social media and smartphones.

A shrill, siren-like alarm emergency alarm will be sounded, which was also used during the unfounded Winnipeg case.


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“I took a listen and it definitely sounded very real in a lot of respects, especially with the reference to Prime Minister Trudeau and the specific actions,” Mike Olczyk, with the Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization, said.

If you do hear a notification, it should always state where it’s coming from, Olczyk explained.

“Make sure it is a government-authorized alert system,” he said. For example, in Manitoba, Emergency Measures Organization and Climate Change Canada are the only two authorized users of the emergency alerting system in the province.

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“In addition, it goes out over cable and satellite television, radio and compatible wireless devices. There would be likely standard communication on social media too,” he explained.

The fake emergency message in Winnipeg was only broadcast from a speaker and it did not specify who sent the message.

“The method that was employed last night isn’t something that a government authorized alerting authority would issue in that manner. So going and broadcasting out in the parking lot … that isn’t an approach we would take,” he said.

Test emergency messages coming soon

Canadians can expect to start getting text messages on their phones in May as part of the overall testing of the entire emergency alert system – including radio, broadcast and wireless devices connected to LTE networks.

The National Public Alerting System — commonly called Alert Ready — will send out the test alerts throughout the beginning of May. For example, Ontario residents will receive the alert at 1:55 ET on May 7 and British Columbians will get the test on May 9 at 1:55 p.m. PT.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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