A new emergency alert system was tested on cellphones and TV and radio stations across B.C. Wednesday afternoon, with mixed results.

Alerts were scheduled to be sent out between 1:55 p.m. and 2 p.m. as part of a program being rolled out across Canada with the help of provincial public safety ministries, but many people reported they had not received the alert.

The problems did not appear specific to mobile provider or type of phone.

Those who did get the message from Emergency Management BC saw the following notification pop up on their smartphone screens: "This is a TEST of the British Columbia Emergency Alerting System, issued by Emergency Management British Columbia. This is ONLY a TEST. If this had been an actual emergency or threat, you would now hear instructions that would assist you to protect you and your family. For further information go to www.emergencyinfobc.gov.bc.ca. This is ONLY a TEST, no action is required."

To receive the alerts, mobile phones had to be connected to a cellular network, be within the alert area and be compatible. The messages were sent automatically at no cost to cellphone users. More information on compatibility is available online.

At the same time, routine TV and radio tests were conducted.

While results of the cellphone-specific part of the test varied, officials aren't calling it a failure.

"A lot of people did receive the message as well as those who didn't receive the message," said Jennifer Rice, B.C.'s parliamentary secretary for emergency preparedness.

"This is why we're doing this. This is a test. We want to work out the glitches before the event of a major situation where we actually rely on this."

She said the government hopes to have more information and data on the effectiveness of Wednesday's drill on Thursday.

Until the system is fully operational, residents of the province should check media including ratio and television in event of an actual emergency.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth echoed the message earlier in the day it was just a test, meant to give B.C. residents a glimpse at how it works.

He said the hope is that wireless alerts will help broaden the reach of urgent and potentially life-saving information.

Currently, the system is set up to alert residents of B.C. to the risk of tsunamis, but the province said it will consider expanding its use.

"Across Canada there are glitches that still need to be worked out. We are trying to perfect the system but eventually we'd like to evolve this into using this for all hazards in British Columbia," Rice said.

Provincial officials said the alerts also serve as a reminder about the importance of emergency preparedness. Residents should understand the risks around them, and should have an emergency kit and a plan for their workplace, home and vehicle.

The RCMP asked the public not to call 911 to get more information, as all additional details will be provided through the media. The hope is that the new alert system will reduce calls to 911 overall from people who are not in an emergency situation. During an emergency, the line should only be used for those in life-threatening situations.

In addition to B.C., alerts were issued in:

  • Alberta
  • Saskatchewan
  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Nova Scotia
  • Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Northwest Territories
  • Yukon

The system appeared to have worked in the Maritimes. The company that operates the system in Atlantic Canada said wireless carriers confirmed messages were distributed across their networks.

Anecdotal reports on social media suggested only some residents of the Prairies, the West Coast and northern Canada received messages.

Wireless service providers were still working to verify the success rate on Wednesday afternoon, according to The Canadian Press.

Tests are also scheduled in B.C. on June 20, Sept. 19 and Dec. 19 for radio and TV only.

Wednesday's is not the first test of emergency alerts, and so far, the system has not worked as planned.

It was tested in Quebec and Ontario Monday, and if there had been a real emergency, the system would have failed.

Nothing happened on phones in Quebec, though the alerts did work on TV, an issue the province blamed on a computer programming error.

The reason behind the alert being sent only to some phones in Ontario is still undetermined.

The federal public safety minister said the issues were the point of the exercise.

"That's what a test is for – to determine if the system works. Today it didn't," Ralph Goodale said Monday.

"We need to make sure it's fixed and that it's available to Canadians at the earliest possible moment."

The alert system was built following an order from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to wireless providers to implement warnings concerning public safety. The CRTC has also suggested the system be used to circulate Amber Alerts.

With reports from CTV Vancouver's Nafeesa Karim and Penny Daflos, and The Canadian Press