Ontario’s Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones, has issued a statement about the investigation into a false alarm about the Pickering nuclear power plant in January.

She said: “I unreservedly apologise 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.”

Jones noted that on 12 January an emergency alert had been sent across Ontario in error, adding that the government “regrets the serious concern many people felt as a result”.

An investigation was launched immediately and has now been completed and the report has been received and reviewed, she said. A copy of the report and an action plan, addressing its findings, are available on the ministry website.

“As noted in the report, the 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 statement said.

The investigation concluded that while the immediate cause was human error, there were several systemic issues that contributed to the false alert and the delay in issuing a cancellation.

Emergency Management Ontario (EMO) has already taken significant corrective action in key areas, including planning, procedures, operations, communications and staff training.

Jones said: “I am confident the actions taken to address the gaps brought to light by this investigation will make Ontario's emergency management system even stronger.”

According to a report from the EMO chief, the corrective steps taken include clearly labelling test messages in the alert system, requiring separate log-in credentials for the live and training systems, more training, and establishing a new procedure for an "end alert" message in case of future errors.

The report explained that the duty officer at the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre is supposed to test both a live alert and a training system at shift changes, and on that day the officer thought they had logged out of the live system and into the training system when the alert was sent.

The officer immediately realised the error and asked supervisors how to fix it, but they were uncertain about whether or how to send a corrective alert to everyone who had seen the first, the report said.

Photo: Screenshot of the nuclear emergency alert recieved by the public on 12 January (Credit: Ministry of the
Solicitor General)