The Amber Alert TV Alarm: Hearing What You Want to Hear

Apparently, if you criticize last night's Amber Alert in any way, you aren't thinking of the children. There's no middle ground. The cool thing to do this morning is to attack anyone who doesn't universally praise the Amber Alert communication process. You're either behind the method in which the Amber Alert spread last night, or you're an asshole.

Nonsense. Here's my little story and how it was grossly misinterpreted because some people only hear what they want to hear.

I watched 60 Minutes profile our Prime Minister. They misidentified Kim Cattrall as Maggie Trudeau, which was fun. Kim even replied to my tweet about it, which was pretty cool.

Then I watched the Raptors blow it at home against the Rockets. That was frustrating. Our sweet home court winning streak came to an end in a game we once led by 18.

Then, because my wife was knitting a blanket for our unborn child and I wasn't ready to turn in yet, I tuned in the Democrat Debate on CNN. That's what I was watching when the Amber Alert came on.

It was a scroll that crawled vertically at a snail's pace, and it was accompanied by the loudest sound to ever emanate from my television. It was far, far louder than the volume set on my TV, comparable to the smoke alarm. The tone was a piercing, frightening alarm that scared the shit out of me. Because the scroll was so slow, I actually went to Twitter to find out what was happening.

And yes, I tweeted about it. Because the alarm didn't just happen once, it happened again a few minutes later, and that's when I shut off the television for the night because my nerves couldn't handle another round. Here's my tweet on the subject.

Some told me I was being selfish, after all, a child was in potential danger. Someone asked me if I'd feel the same way if it was my child. Others accused me of complaining my precious shows were being interrupted. Another just replied with "that's a brutal tweet you should be ashamed. Unfollow".

That's right, because I don't think you need a tone that harsh and ridiculously loud to share an Amber Alert, I should be ashamed of myself. I'm not against the Amber Alert, I think interrupting shows for a time sensitive message of importance is a great idea, I just don't think my cable provider should blast such a jarring sound at that volume into my home. I believe there's a better, more sensible way.

After all, nothing would get my attention like a brick through the living room window, but I don't think that's a good idea, either. Sometimes, we need to use common sense, even when we're thinking of the children.

Share this entry

Comments (47 - click here to join in!)


Welcome to 2016 where nuanced discussion is lost online.

I completely avoid engaging in any debate on twitter because there is a loud segment of the population that just see the extremes in any argument.

With the amber alert, that person is responding to you like you're anti amber alert when that is not the case. And he tells you to delete the tweet? What happen to a discussion or agreeing to disagree without the extreme over dramatic response?

It reminded me when the man was fired from Hydro One for disrespecting the reporter at the TFC game by being sexist. I made a few tweets saying the guy was in the wrong, the ban from MLSE was warranted. But I then said, unless he has a history of this behaviour such as complaints at Hydro One I think him losing his job to be extreme. I think the public shaming alone will haunt this guy for the rest of his life, no need to take his ability to support himself away (unless there is a history of him being a terrible person).

I got attacked from a few people. One woman saying I support rape and blocked me. A few typical white men responses.

It turned me off from getting into any discussions on twitter. Just too much misinterpretations because many people have to choose an extreme.

March 7, 2016 @ 9:34 AM


There seems to be a significant percentage of people on social media who love nothing better to pounce on the first person who gives an honest opinion about something. God knows, I've experienced the outrage machine that permeates social media (including some commenters on this blog).

These people seem to feel its their God given right and duty to protected those who might be the slightest offended by a person offering their honest observation.

(sarcasm) All I can say is thank God we have social media to make sure we're thinking and commenting the "right" way (end of sarcasm).

March 7, 2016 @ 9:38 AM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike

"That doesn't need to be so loud" becomes "I don't care about children" online. Even people I know are smarter than that can't hear the logic in anything critical of a system designed to find abducted children.

March 7, 2016 @ 9:49 AM


I was unfamiliar with the Amber Alert process last night, and it caught me off guard. It was actually unsettling. I even paused the program I was watching, and the alert kept going. I will say that by all means, notify the public when an amber alert has to be communicated. This particular method was very invasive. The message was there, but the method used not good. I have to wonder how a senior citizen, who may be home alone at the time, would have felt when that came on. Amber Alerts are time sensitive, and need to get out there. A scrolling message on my screen would have provided that, without the loud, painfully slow message display. A message that works would be similar to the weather statements that are put on US stations - we see the statement , and they scroll fairly quickly, with just a quick 3 beep tone at the beginning.
YES to Amber Alerts
NO to the current method that they use

March 7, 2016 @ 10:06 AM


It reminded me of the tornado alerts that used to scroll across the screen on CKVR Barrie when I was a kid. Scared the crap out of me...more so than the missing child, which occurred about 30 minutes from me. I didn't hear the screeching noise for some reason, just the giant red information screen. I've seen Amber Alert blasts in the past, but this seemed to be a new form of getting the message out.

March 7, 2016 @ 10:21 AM

Rob J

A guest on the Oakley Show said the method turned out a mistake was made as this was not the protocol for an amber alert. It should have been a crawl at the bottom of the screen. Plus who didnt know deep down that it was a domestic issue (which it turned out to be)?

March 7, 2016 @ 10:22 AM


I'm pretty sure that was a mistake. There's no way they intended the alarm to be that loud. When they reveal it was an accident, and correct it for next time, you'll get many apologies. /s

March 7, 2016 @ 10:26 AM


I agree 100% with you, Mike. The Amber alert for great for getting the message out when a child is in danger (or other time sensitive emergency information) and absolutely am for it. However I LOATHE the tone they use. It gives me an instantaneous panic attack. Had to mute the TV, but kept the scroll going.

March 7, 2016 @ 10:30 AM

Borje Salmon

I always love it when Argie pities himself and figures out a way to turn any conversation into something about himself.

As for the Amber Alert and other 'levels of alert,' - there is a constant desire to feed us fear.

March 7, 2016 @ 10:38 AM


It was just an example of this outraged. I'm sorry if it upset you.

March 7, 2016 @ 10:40 AM

Outta da 'Jax

Why they called Amber Alert? they certainly are not yellow. Working out how to best get this info out quickly is important. One channel had it at the bottom and program sound continued. Other had it in the middle making noise with computer voice. When over red band again, one at bottom on one channel, red in middle with computer voice. When situation is over, please consider using a different colour; like green and with a different but less annoying sound. Work in progress.

March 7, 2016 @ 11:32 AM

Dawn Keibals

If it was such a problem why did you not just hit the MUTE button?

March 7, 2016 @ 11:34 AM


I can't even be bothered with Twitter conversations. There's no room for nuance in 160 characters, even if people were looking for it.

March 7, 2016 @ 11:41 AM

Sherlock Holmes


The system is intrusive & alarming because the assumption is made the television viewer may not be paying attention, may be on their computer, phone or tablet, or in another room. The concept is to grab your attention; this is all about immediacy.

Public input (you call them tips) plays a huge part in police solving crime. Without public input it becomes difficult to solve a crime. The best example is crime committed by organized gangsters. The public is fearful of submitting tips and the "solve" rate drops. Use Surrey BC as an example which has an abysmal resolution rate for that very reason.

Alerting the public in the case of child abductions & kidnappings needs to be "immediate". Time is of the absolute essence. I want you to imagine you have a map & a compass (the thing you draw a circle with). You place the tip on Orillia, Ontario. In 1 hour the kidnapper has drive 100 kms. Draw a circle with a 100 km radius of Orillia. In 2 hours draw a circle within a 200 km radius. In 10 hours, draw a circle with a 1000 km radius of Orillia.

Each minute counts in these situations. The more eyes out there paying attention the higher the likelihood something will be noticed. One very small seemingly insignificant "clue" can be absolutely vital. And it should be added that the abductor has likely planned this out prior. They are expecting an alert to happen.

Sherlock Holmes stated "notice what you see". In a world saturated with information & visual/audio input these alerts change our frame of mind and help us "notice what we see". It worked. It caught your attention.

March 7, 2016 @ 11:42 AM


@Sherlock Holmes

The abductor, in this case, was the boy's grandfather bringing him home.

March 7, 2016 @ 11:49 AM


Don't do twitter and the resulting angst, thankfully.
A repetitive screen crawl would have been all that was needed. And one that provided the information quickly, unlike the piss poor system that came across my TV.

March 7, 2016 @ 12:27 PM


I'd agree that it was jarring, annoying, startling. It did seem to work though. We completely stopped what we were doing and tried to figure out what was going on. I'll admit I'm too lazy and unimaginative to come up with something more effective. However, I'm sure that they would appreciate some constructive feedback or assistance in improving these alerts. How did Roger's respond Mike?

March 7, 2016 @ 12:31 PM


I avoided tweeting or Facebooking about the kinks in the system because social media is just itching to demonize those who don't give unqualified praise for something.

I think everyone agrees Amber Alerts are a good thing and more widespread applications are welcome.

Last night was the first use of the system in this manner and it exposed some imperfections.

One of those is that you had a different experience depending on who your provider was. I'm on Bell. We had a full-screen message (aside from bars at the side) and a tone that was loud, but not excessive. If you clicked "Exit" the alert disappeared. The alert came back a few times over the next twenty minutes.

From what I understand (could be inaccurate) Rogers had more of a bar -- they could still see their program -- but a much louder tone.

Cogeco customers apparently had problems with their boxes locking.

It's all for a greater good, but it's fair to point out ways it could be improved.

Unfortunately, many people were so outraged that they called 911 to complain. I think it's okay to come down a little harder on those people.

March 7, 2016 @ 12:40 PM


Personally, the alert was a bit too loud, BUT have any of you noticed when a TV Commercial come up during a TV Show. I always have to turn the volume down on my Television. If the police issue an Amber Alert, it is okay. just make it a bit lower in volume.....

March 7, 2016 @ 1:12 PM


We are on Cogeco and were literally blasted out of the living room, while at the same time left trying to overcome the initial shock and regain our composure after this dramatic intrusion into our TV viewing! As people have said, the box locked and other than muting the sound, we were held captive until the alert finished its cycle. Why a soundless scrolling across the bottom of the screen, as per violent weather warnings, while the programming remains in place, was not used is beyond me. For sure, it is a proven fact that Amber Alerts have assisted law enforcement in quickly solving problems of this nature, but please, use some common sense in implementing the process. We commented as to how many cardiac arrests may have been triggered in nursing homes where sweet little old ladies, wrapped in warming shawls were getting their final dose of Downton Abbey! Heavy handed, awkward and a real need to audit and change the procedure for such announcements.

March 7, 2016 @ 2:21 PM


Why do you think it is loud exactly? To get your attention!!

Lots of people have the TV on in the background while doing other activities including in other rooms of the house. If a tornado warning is issued for where you live, you'd probably want to know about it straight away and hence, that loud tone will quickly get your attention to your television screen letting you take action. Presumably the system doesn't allow for different types of tones depending on the type of alert being issued.

I think a bigger issue is why aren't alerts sent to your cellphone like they do in the US? If your phone is pinging a tower within the area of the Amber Alert, you automatically receive an alert on your phone with all the details. If you aren't in the area, you don't receive it. I would argue many more people are paying attention to, and in general own cellphones than those who have cable television and have it on when one is issued. Classic Canada always behind on technology.

March 7, 2016 @ 2:26 PM

Sherlock Holmes


You can sign up for Amber Alerts on your cell phone. The link is here.
You sign up and are given the options of picking the region(s) the alerts are released in. It sends you a text message.

March 7, 2016 @ 2:54 PM


As I remember, they tested this system a while back, and yes, the alarm was a loud, fine-china-rattling noise; however, no one complained when it was a test. Finally a real alert (albeit, false alarm) is issued and everyone is complaining about the loud, earth-shattering alarm. The alert, however, worked, it got your attention.

March 7, 2016 @ 4:16 PM


As I remember, they tested this system a while back, and yes, the alarm was a loud, fine-china-rattling noise; however, no one complained when it was a test. Finally a real alert (albeit, false alarm) is issued and everyone is complaining about the loud, earth-shattering alarm. The alert, however, worked, it got your attention.

March 7, 2016 @ 4:17 PM

Toneman The Leaf Fan

I get it. I have two daughters of my own (living near Orillia, by the way), so of course I support Amber Alerts. But ya, the shrill tone was a little much. I'm old enough to remember the tests we used to see on U.S. television stations of the Emergency Broadcast System, which used the same type of apocalyptic sounds to get your attention. Very effective, but I couldn't get rid of the sound as I read and re-read the scroll for more information. I actually turned off the satellite receiver, and the screech came back a few seconds later when I turned it back on.

Outta da 'Jax, they are called Amber Alerts because the program was started after a child named Amber was abducted.

March 7, 2016 @ 4:34 PM


@ Outta da 'Jax
Its not about the colour Amber - it was named after a girl who was abducted and murdered - her name was Amber. I think they also made it an acronym with AMBER standing for something along the lines of abduction.
I have Rogers and I did not find the super loud noise that intrusive. It sure got my attention.

March 7, 2016 @ 4:37 PM


oops - Anonymous above is me.....

March 7, 2016 @ 4:37 PM

Toneman The Leaf Fan

Loved the Dubya post, too, by the way. Rhetoric like George W. Bush used paved the way for Donald Trump. This is the New Normal.

March 7, 2016 @ 4:46 PM

Laurie Allen

The alert was solo us that I had to take my Labrador retriever outside for the whole time ... She was just frantic! Just ridiculous to keep it going!

March 7, 2016 @ 4:58 PM

Sherlock Holmes


Officially it stands for America's Missing (Broadcast Emergency Response) but the name originally came about because a kid named Amber was abducted. Neat fact: Vancouver area buses use their digital signs to alert people there is an AMBER alert.

Changes were made to the system after the murder of Victoria Stafford in Ontario. The standards for using the alert system were changed to allow the alert to be released if it was believed the child was at risk of abduction or harm. Prior to that it had to be confirmed. That likely explained what happened yesterday.

March 7, 2016 @ 5:02 PM

Jason from Sudbury

Mike I totally agree, that shit was loud as hell. I was laying in bed watching tv, slowly falling asleep when it went off. Scared the shit out of me.

March 7, 2016 @ 5:32 PM


If you're going to tell the story, you should really include the original tweet.

The tweet you posted was after the original tweet. You originally said, "That sound that just emanated from my television should be reserved for an imminent nuclear attack."

I thought it was a silly tweet. I said you're dead in a nuclear attack. A child can be saved.

But seriously, Mike, show the tweet that started, not the tweet that clarified it.

March 7, 2016 @ 5:51 PM

Toronto Mike Verified as the defacto Toronto Mike


I shared the tweet that generated the replies described above. In fact, it was this response that prompted the entry:

And I stand by my other tweet.... if I hear a siren that loud and that piercing, we'd better be under attack.

March 7, 2016 @ 6:11 PM


@ Mike

I did not see that one. That's ridiculous. That was a complete overreaction.

I can't even figure out the motivation on that one.

March 7, 2016 @ 6:48 PM


Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this.

That jarring alarm freaked me the hell out. My heart rate went through the roof. And I couldn't read the message to know what was happening. Anxiety!

The system is broken. If more people were honest like this they might even fix it!

March 7, 2016 @ 6:57 PM


Sorry, the above was me!

March 7, 2016 @ 7:00 PM


Our problem with the amber alert was not that it pre-empted the progamming but that the volume was so intense it literally shook the house.

March 7, 2016 @ 7:12 PM


I was half asleep when it happened. I didn't know what the hell was going on. I thought someone hacked into the TV or an attack was going on. The text was not scrolling on my TV. The computer generated voice was really hard to make out. I did not even realize it was an Amber Alert till it happened a second time, minutes later.

March 8, 2016 @ 6:10 AM


@Sherlock Holmes

Having to signup for cellphone alerts is a typically dumb Canadian thing to have to do. It should be automatically sent to all cellphones in an area. The website you linked to looks like it is ten years old and I doubt anyone knows about it, let alone would trust it to have up to date information.

March 8, 2016 @ 7:16 AM

Grew up in the Cold War

Real smooth move by the law enforcement agencies involved. Make people from 3 different generations "DUCK AND COVER" at the time of night everyone should be relaxing. Oh are we waiting for a first nuclear strike? Because that's what that sh*t sounded like.

You know what the EBS sounded like back in the 80's? It sounded like that sh*t. Same with the BBC First Strike warning system.

Way to go scaring the deaf AND the blind in one fell swoop. Assh*les.

March 8, 2016 @ 7:41 AM

The Voice of Reason

With the amount of children that go missing every year, it is sad that the Amber Alert is not used more often.

March 8, 2016 @ 7:59 AM



While the guy that unfollowed you acted like an ass, the some of the comments here are just as ass worthy.

Look at Grew up in the Cold War's comments. That's the opposite end and is just as stupid.

I was watching Netflix and it startled me but I got over it pretty quickly. The anger that some people feel over the alert is ridiculous.

March 8, 2016 @ 11:33 AM

York North Guy

Interestingly I was on business last week in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was in a restaurant with colleagues on Tuesday night when all of a sudden there was a huge sound of iPhones squealing. Even my phone, regularly on Telus in Canada but AT&T in US, started doing it. When we looked at it there was an Amber Alert on it. Not a text message but a message over the screen - now matter what you were doing.

The sound was very similar to the incident on Sunday. Just imagine dozens of phones doing it.

March 8, 2016 @ 12:06 PM


This amber alert (may 21, 2017) is nowhere near me. It's 1200 km away. I'd love to help and keep an eye out, but it seems a little overkill and illogical. Please localize your hijacking of my television.
I've heard the same alert well over 10 times in French and in English. I can assure you, the message has been received! I think that there should be an option to turn it off once the viewer has heard clearly heard it. It feels very big brother.

May 21, 2017 @ 7:37 AM


Enough with that damn alarm. It's so loud. Keep the scroll, but get rid of the alarm.

May 21, 2017 @ 8:15 AM


May 2, 2017 - The alert continues. The message hasn't changed. I have no option to turn it off. Once I get the message a few times that should be enough until the info changes. There should be an option to turn it off with maybe another option of having the opportunity of going to an amber alert channel if you want continuous alerts.

May 21, 2017 @ 8:53 AM

Leave a comment

Only 47 comments? C'mon, we can do better... Leave a comment above and let's keep this conversation going!

« Nancy Reagan, Dead at 94 Hammy Hamster's Adventures on the Riverbank »