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Since the implementation of the current Amber Alert system, a system which no one can deny has saved lives, there have been numerous complaints ranging from mild inconvenience to all out health risks to those who receive the alerts.

Opinions have also ranged from the desire for choice in receiving the alerts, to those who feel that it is our duty as citizens to receive them, as there’s no telling how an innocent child can be saved.

What those behind the alert have failed to consider is that there are times when receiving these alerts can actually pose great risk to the recipient. I am one of those people at risk. 

Born legally blind due to neurological issues, I compensate by using my super sensitive hearing, logic and memory, where most would simply use their eyes.

This has become second nature to me. I can still see relatively clearly, but because of my neurological issues, and the way my brain developed, I don’t always know what I’m looking at.

Think of it as listening to someone speak a foreign language. You can hear it syllable for syllable, you can even repeat it back to the speaker, yet you have no idea what is being said, or you understand bits and pieces of it, and automatically translate it into your mother-tongue.

Just because I recognize the Starbucks sign doesn’t mean it looks like a Starbucks sign, just a visual consistancy that is always in close proximity to a Starbucks.

When it comes to my sensitive hearing, I have amazed my husband by hearing him untie his shoelaces from three rooms away, with the bedroom door closed, and the TV on. I also have perfect pitch.

Because of all this, an abundance of sound can be overwhelming, and since I can not turn down the volume on society, I cover the noise with music that masks the sounds I need to mask, but which still allows me to hear the vibrations of the traffic around me. Perfect pitch and the Doppler Effect allow me to tell direction, distance, and speed of oncoming traffic. 

The moment when I realized just how jarring the current alerts can be happened last summer during a test of the system’s ability to reach individual smartphones.

I was walking the short distance from the Starbucks on Clair Road to the bus stop. Suddenly my music was replaced by an unholy screeching sound which totally messed with my senses.

The smooth harmony and bass of the Southern Gospel quartet was replaced by the audio equivilent of a prolonged shot to the head.

The resulting sensory overload overrode my ability to hear what needed to be heard, to see what little I could see, and the blinding headache made me long for the soothing relief of a blow to the back of the head with a tire iron. I also nearly fell, because the overload affected my balance. 

Next thing I remember I was riding the bus home, not having remembered my trip downtown on the #99 at all! All I could think about was what would happen if that thing went off while I was crossing the street.

What if I’d been hit by a car? Yes, I wear my headphones with music on, while crossing the street. It’s the best way to counter the noise of the biker who removed the baffles from his muffler, or the show-off in the muscle car who likes to rev his engine at traffic lights, and pretend he’s going to advance into the crosswalk, and mow someone down.

Even regular traffic noise can be overwhelming, and don’t get me started on blaring radios. Believe me, I’d be able to hear less accurately if I weren’t wearing them. 

Fast forward to Tuesday, May 14, 4:59 a.m.: by a stroke of good luck, I had to get up early that day anyway. As my phone burst forth with the familiar screech of the Amber Alert, I was seized with panic.

If my husband hears this, he may try to kill me! No, I am not in an abusive marriage; far from it. He’s an angel! He’s also a combat veteran with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and 40 years after his time in the Vietnam war, he still has nightmares and flashbacks.

His reactions can range from “incoming! Gotta protect my wife,” to “incoming, is that the enemy? I’ve got to fight him off.”

Fortunately, I was able to nix the noise from TV and iPhone before he even realized anything had happened, but another half second, and I might have had to fight him off, after he physically lashed out in his sleep.

From the movements next to me, I could tell he was having a nightmare, even before the alarm sounded. Again, many have asked why I don’t just turn off my phone and TV.

The background calms us both, because outside noises can be jarring, and there have been occasions when the phone has rung late at night due to a family emergency.

File photo.

Finally, and most important of all, I am an adult! I should be able to use my phone in whatever manner I choose, and if that means leaving it on at night, so be it.

Last time I looked my phone it was my property, and not the property of the government to use to alert me without my consent. 

My husband and I aren’t the only ones with complaints about the current system. I have plenty of friends who suffer from various illnesses and pain, or who live with various disabilities, who have problems.

One friend in particular had just come off of a three day insomnia, and was dealing with some very serious physical pain. First good night sleep she’d gotten in 72 hours, only to be jarred by an alarm she did not set!

There are a number of viable solutions to this problem.

Why not make the system optional, like it is in the United States? All kinds of well meaning Americans have tried to tell me how to turn off alerts in my iPhone, and are baffled when I tell them the CRTC (FCC to them) doesn’t give us the option.

Even after a number of Americans have turned off the alerts on their phones, lives have been saved. Some people opting out isn’t necessary isn’t going to bring down the system.

If it must be essential, why not allow us to opt out with a note from a doctor or therapist?

I’ve spoken to several people, and my willingness to express an unpopular opinion has also given them a voice. My husband is not the only one with PTSD.

For the rest of us, and this includes myself, the Amber Alerts would be more effective if we could choose how we receive them. I’d be willing to be alarmed in the middle of the night if I could just choose a different tone.

What if there was a voice in lieu of that screaching that announced AMBER ALERT! AMBER ALERT! That would be instant reality, and it wouldn’t scare my combat vet husband into unnecessary action.

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It would also not block the traffic noise, if it went off when I was crossing the street. Other options would be vibrations, or a choice from a CRTC-created list of alert tones used only for this. A number of us also wear smartwatches.

What if our watches vibrated or pulsed? For me this would be ideal, because the alert would wake me up, but it would leave my husband alone.

The police have issued bulletins telling inconvenienced people to quit calling 911 to complain about the emergency alert. I couldn’t agree more. Such calls are abusing a system meant for emergencies.

On the other hand, the existance of these calls proves that I am not alone, and the system needs improvements. I’m glad the callers are out there, but I wish they’d voice their opinions in a more productive way. 

For those who say we’d feel differently if the missing were our own children. That is nothing more than cheap emotional manipulation. My husband has lost a daughter and  grandson, both to horrible accidents. His daughter’s accident was the result of an abusive relationship.

He has found loved ones dead after they were claimed by the terminal illness they valiantly fought. He has been to war, and he knows that the whole world does not revolve around one person’s tragedy. If it did, we’d all suffer from a constant state of anxiety and depression.

Rather than manipulating the emotions of others, we need to work to optimize our responses so that those who are more readily equipped to help in these situations, CAN!

Personally, I wouldn’t know a Toyota Matrix if it ran over my foot, nor would I be able to read the license plate number. For some of us, the only way we can really help is if the accused happens to be a coworker, or the child was otherwise brought into our lives. 

So yes, keep the system in place. It has been proven to save lives. However, lets improve the system, so that it can be different things to different people. After all, it is the result that counts, not the implementation.

Let’s create a system flexable enough work in the diversity that is Canada. Let’s also quit judging those who stand up and voice unpopular opinions. We all have something valuable to bring to the table. 


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