I heard it before I saw it, and I knew exactly what it was: a cell broadcast was tearing though the restaurant where I was eating with my family. One phone after another, in quick succession, was making the familiar shrill tone.
Only, this time it was different. I was far, far from home, in a rural area of Korea, where I don’t speak or read the language, and the cell broadcast arrived in Korean.
My phone is screeching.
I’m trying to get it out of my pocket.
I free my phone and accidentally tap the screen to make the screeching stop.
And the notification disappears.
I have no idea what’s going on.
I’m about 2 hours from Seoul, so there are no Korean locals around who can translate for us. Despite my butterfingers on the quick-draw, with my experience as an Everbridge employee, I quickly ran my backup plan and was able to get a cousin to do a screen grab of the message before he dismissed it, and it too, was gone forever.
Here is what I received:
Now, I’m not your average tourist. Because I’m an experienced traveler and work in the Critical Event Management industry, I have a virtual toolbox for these situations. I ran the screen shot through my Google Translate app and was able to learn that Typhoon Soulik was undoubtedly going to make landfall on the Korean Peninsula. I had no idea that one of the largest weather events in the area in years was headed in our direction. But now I had the information. The family and I went back to Seoul, found a good hotel to potentially shelter in, moved our flight reservations up a half day, and got out safely before the storm impacted the city.
I can only imagine how stressful this situation would have been for other foreign tourists in Korea. The alert could have just as easily been about an active aggressor situation or a missing child, but who would know when they can’t read the message? Or when it disappears so quickly?
While cell broadcast does get messages out to a broad audience relatively quickly, it does lack a few things:
- It lacks precision, broadcasting more like a radio signal from a cell tower without any directionality.
- Cell broadcast typically only supports a single language.
- You cannot tell how many devices the message was sent to.
- There is no way to know how many people received the message and no way for them to respond.
Meanwhile, in a quiet corner of Northern Europe, several countries are trying something different to solve all of these problems. Everbridge recently acquired Unified Messaging Services (UMS), which offers an alternative technology which dramatically improves the delivery of messages. For example, now imagine that you are an American tourist in Sweden. You receive a message about a dangerous forest fire nearby, but you receive that notification in English. Neighbors in the adjacent campsite from Spain get the message in Spanish. How? Your SIM card is American, and theirs is from Spain, so messages can be delivered in your language. The government will get stats on the broadcast, which will tell them how many Swedes, Norwegians, Americans, British, etc. were sent the message. And, if you want to issue a retraction or update only to the original recipients, UMS’s smart population alerting technology allows for that level of versatility.
After my experience in Korea, it really opened my eyes that governments have a responsibility to take care of all people within its borders, and some of those most vulnerable populations are those who do not speak the native language, like immigrants and tourists. We can do better than cell broadcast technology, and it seems to me, that technology already exists.