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PUBLIC WARNING SYSTEMS

What Emergency Responders Need to Keep People Safer

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Experience from a series of recent events across Europe – including the floods in France and the forest fires in Greece – has served to highlight why it’s so vital that members of the public receive potentially life-saving information from official channels in a timely way.

Such is the driver behind Article 110 of the European Electronics Communications Code (EECC), which gives EU member states until June 2022 to put in place a public warning system that sends emergency text alerts direct to people’s mobile phones – telling them about the exact nature of the threat, its location, and the next best steps they can take to protect themselves.

For government officials now tasked with implementing a fit-for-purpose EECC Directive compliant public warning system, the pressure is on to ensure the platform they implement satisfies all duty of care requirements as set out in the EU legislation. These include being able to:

  • Precisely target warning messages to people at risk in a specific location
  • Ensure everyone at risk gets the message in real-time – users don’t have to reconfigure their mobile devices, download apps, or opt in to receive emergency alerts
  • Warn overseas visitors of an imminent threat to life in their own native language – ensuring that tourists and non-nationals aren’t excluded or left behind

One thing is for sure, emergency responders will be very keen to take advantage of a national mobile alert system. For them, the ability to use these systems on a day-to-day basis will significantly enhance their capabilities when it comes to warning, informing, and advising the public about localised or more widespread incidents.

But sending critical messages that get people to take specific protective action during an emergency is just part of the story.

To boost the life-saving capabilities of their systems, national project teams should also evaluate the other value-add features that modern alerting solutions, such as location-based SMS, offer – features that will significantly boost the operational effectiveness of emergency response teams as events unfold.

For countries like Australia and Iceland, which have already implemented public warning systems that use location-based SMS, the top eight ‘must have’ technical features identified by their emergency response agencies were as follows:

  1. Device count

Knowing in real-time how many people/mobile phone users are in an affected – regardless of whether a decision is taken, or not, to send an alert – is vital to determine exactly how many people are caught up in an incident. This enables data-informed decisions about response strategies, including how many emergency personnel to deploy and where.

  1. Heatmaps

Being able to visualise exactly where mobile phone users are at the time of the alert and monitor their movement to safety by repeatedly undertaking a device count is vital. This allows emergency responders to confirm when an area has been successfully evacuated and if resources need to be redeployed to alternate/additional routes as an event unfolds.

  1. IMEI Filter

The ability to undertake IMEI (international mobile equipment identity number) filtering means that non-mobile devices like tablets can be eliminated from the device count – giving responders an accurate count of actual mobile phone users in a location.

  1. SIM Country Code Identifier and Filter

Responders need to know if any international visitors are at an at risk location – and from which countries – so that alerts can be communicated in all required languages. The SIM Country Code filter ensures mobiles alerts in a specific language are received only by mobiles with that SIM Country Code.

  1. Spam Filters

To prevent the same message being sent to people that have already successfully received a warning, emergency teams need to ensure repeat alerts are only received by new mobiles carried by people who subsequently enter a designated warning area after the first alert was sent.

  1. SMS Delivery Receipt

Responders need to know in real-time the percentage of mobile users in the initial device count (undertaken with the EMEI Filter on) that successfully received the warning message. Post event, this level of reporting is important for automated system performance assurance.

  1. Subscriber Metadata Capture

In the immediate aftermath of an event, emergency responders will need access to the subscriber metadata of all mobile phones in an affected location so they can enable follow-up messages such as; ‘Safe to return’, ‘Got to hospital’, ‘Please check in to say you’re safe’, ‘Contact the police as a witness/victim’.

  1. Access to Subscriber Metadata for Post-Incident Reconstruction

Post incident, emergency responders will want to evaluate the incident in detail and analyse the effectiveness of their public protection efforts – providing detailed reports, if required, to national authorities. Access to subscriber metadata generated during the campaign can later be interrogated to determine, for example, if a specific mobile was identified within the warning area, whether it received an alert, if the subscriber then evacuated – and when.

Improving people’s safety and security – some final thoughts

Understanding the functionality that’s important to emergency response agencies will be essential for national project teams. With this knowledge, they will be able to accurately identify which technical features will deliver the operational intelligence and insights responders vitally need to inform their on-the-ground efforts.

With the right public warning messaging platform in place, emergency responders will be able to refine how they deliver potentially lifesaving information to members of the public. They’ll also be free to take full advantage of flexible messaging technologies that support a more coordinated tactical response to each unique emergency scenario they encounter.

 

Interested to Learn More?

This is the fourth in a series of blogs to address the issues and challenges of meeting the requirements of the EU Directive 110 on population alerting. 

Further reading about Population Alerting: