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US News How will the government announced telephone alert system work?

23:15  25 september  2020
23:15  25 september  2020 Source:   lemonde.fr

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The Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, announced, Thursday, September 24, the establishment by June 2022 of a new system for alerting the populations in the event of a disaster or a terrorist attack .

After the failure of the SAIP application, the government announced Thursday, September 24, the launch of a new telephone alert system. This tool will inform the population, in a localized way, if a danger, such as a fire or an attack, arises in an area. It will be deployed between July 2021 and June 2022, the government said. A date that is not trivial, since a European directive adopted in 2018 requires France to have such a system by June 2022 at the latest.

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A system that differs from the SAIP application

In June 2018, the government definitively ended the SAIP application (population alert and information system). This tool, intended to inform the populations in the event of danger in a geographical area, had been launched in the summer of 2016, after the wave of attacks which had mourned France in 2015.

Before its abandonment, this application had been strongly criticized for its numerous failures: for example, it took the system two hours to send an alert during the Nice attack on July 14, 2016, and no alert had been issued during certain terrorist attacks on French territory.

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This time, the tool that the government wants to launch will not be based on an application. "Requiring no specific installation on the phones, these messages will alert their owners located in a danger zone via a specific sound signal, even if the phones are in silent mode," the interior ministry said in a statement.

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How will this alert system work?

This future system will be based on "two technologies", according to the ministry: sending geolocated SMS and cell broadcasting. They were already recommended in an information report on population alert systems published in 2017 by Senator Jean-Pierre Vogel.

Cell broadcasting, also called cell broadcasting, is not based on sending messages to targeted numbers, but to all phones located in a defined geographic area. Thus, it is possible for the authorities, through the operators, to target one or more telephone antennas (or an entire network) which will relay the alert message to the telephone of anyone in the covered area.

Even a tourist present in the covered area would receive the alert

This system has, in principle, the advantage of not congesting the networks, which can saturate during disasters or terrorist attacks, because the alert is very short , is broadcast on a specific channel and is treated in priority by the equipment of the operators. This method also eliminates the need to rely on a database of telephone numbers. Even a tourist in the covered area would receive the alert.

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As for geolocated SMS, these are messages sent by operators to all customers located in a certain area. They have the drawback, according to Mr. Vogel's Senate report, of risking overloading telephone networks in an emergency, or even arriving more slowly, as the SMS would be sent to specific telephone numbers.

Which countries use cell broadcasting?

The United States deployed a cell broadcast alert system in 2012. It is used, among other things, by meteorological authorities to warn residents of hazards such as cyclones, heavy snowfalls or other extreme weather conditions. Recently, this system has been used in Texas to warn residents of some cities that mask wear is becoming mandatory due to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak.

The European Union has also adopted a cell broadcast alert protocol called EU-Alert. In December 2018, the EU adopted a directive obliging all member countries to have an alert system by 2022. So far, only five countries have implemented EU-Alert: Lithuania, the 'Italy, Greece, the Netherlands and Romania. A cell broadcast-based alert tool also exists in Israel, South Korea, Japan, Canada or the Philippines, among others.

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Why has France not already adopted this system? The senatorial report by Jean-Pierre Vogel estimated that the technology "requires a strong investment from operators, since the software of network equipment must include a particular functionality".

France seems to have fallen behind in its implementation since the birth of this technology. "Cell broadcast would require, in order to be deployed in France, investments the scale of which has proved to be a deterrent", explained, in 2017, the Interior Ministry in response to a question from a deputy Les Républicains.

It is not known for the moment where these investments are, but, on Thursday September 24, the government declared that "the teams of the Ministry of the Interior [had] already initiated work with the mobile telephone operators" .

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