Natural disaster, attacks: why you may receive an alert on your mobile

Natural disaster, attacks: why you may receive an alert on your mobile
Written by madishthestylebar

The government is deploying a new system to alert all French people with a mobile phone in the event of an emergency.

A full-screen notification accompanied by a shrill sound. This is the new device, called FR-Alert, deployed by the authorities to warn each French person with a smartphone in the event of force majeure. On conventional phones, the notification takes the form of an SMS.

For the past few hours, all iPhone users have been receiving a request to “update operator settings” so that their mobile can display these alerts. A step that is however not necessary on Android smartphones, which are already configured in this way by default.

Many advantages

Several experiments have been carried out in France in recent months. Exercises – which sometimes surprised the inhabitants – consisting for example of alerting the population to a leak from a petrochemical site. According to Gérald Darmanin, FR-Alert can be used in real situations from the end of June.

As explained by the Ministry of the Interior, the alerts may concern several types of emergencies: natural disasters, industrial, chemical or nuclear accidents, serious accidents on the road, or even terrorist attacks.

The FR-Alert system has the advantage of targeting a specific population pool, to alert only the people concerned. The messages will mainly be used to specify the nature and location of the danger, as well as to communicate the action to be taken.

An experiment of
An experiment of “FR-Alert” carried out in Martigues © Facebook (City of Martigues)

Alerts are routed using technology called “cellular diffusion” and based on a dedicated channel. Notifications are therefore not likely to be slowed down in the event of mobile network congestion, unlike simple SMS. No personal data is collected by the authorities during the broadcast.

Notifications appear on all 4G or 5G compatible smartphones, including if they are locked. On the other hand, mobiles turned off or in airplane mode remain unreachable.

European bond

Above all, this use of the mobile network and the functions integrated into smartphones makes it possible to reach a large part of the population, without requiring the installation of a specific application. An important asset, after the failure of the application called SAIP, launched by the government after the attacks of 2015 and which was only installed by a handful of French people.

The app had also been criticized for being ineffective. During the Nice attack on July 14, 2016, it only issued alerts a few hours after the tragedy.

Contrary to what the Minister of the Interior claims, the FR-Alert system is however far from being new. It has been used for fifteen years in Japan, for thirteen years in Sri Lanka and for ten years in the United States. Other countries such as Canada, Peru, Chile and New Zealand also use it.

Due to its high cost (several tens of millions of euros), this mode of distribution has long been rejected by France. The arrival of FR-Alert is the consequence of a European directive dating from 2018, which obliges all countries of the European Union to use this technology by June 21, 2022 at the latest.

After this first deployment, the Ministry of the Interior ensures that an alert system based this time on SMS technology will also be put in place “later”, in particular for the French having a simple 2G or 3G telephone. A first massive SMS campaign was organized in isolation, when the first confinement was announced in March 2020.

This other method of distribution, which passes through the usual mobile network, does however have certain advantages. Unlike “cell broadcast” technology, texting allows authorities to obtain statistics on the proportion of messages that have not been opened, as well as to send situation-monitoring messages to people concerned, including if they have left the area initially affected.

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