Have you been receiving text messages informing you about getting "test alerts" which will be accompanied by loud vibrations? Well, you are not alone. In fact, last month several people even received these alerts, which came with a loud vibration on their mobile phones, that said ‘Emergency Alert: Severe’.
Panicked by these alerts, many users shared screenshots of them, as they enquired about it on X (Formerly Twitter). Given that these alerts begin with a foreboding "Emergency Alert: Severe," they can be unsettling, particularly for individuals experiencing them for the first time. However, it is nothing to worry about.
These messages, which are called wireless emergency alerts, were broadcasted by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) as part of a pilot launched to alert citizens about natural calamities and emergency situations like floods, waterlogging and earthquakes, etc.
Here's what we know about them.
What is the intent of the government behind these alerts?
The flash message read, “This is a SAMPLE TESTING MESSAGE sent through Cell Broadcasting System by Department of Telecommunication, Government of India. Please ignore this message as no action is required from your end. This message has been sent to test Pan-India Emergency Alert System being implemented by National Disaster Management Authority. It aims to enhance public safety and provide timely alerts during emergencies.”
In a press release dated July 20, the Ministry of Communications had informed that people might receive these alerts during the testing period. The release also said that each test alert will be clearly labeled as a “SAMPLE TESTING MESSAGE” to avoid confusion.
These tests will be performed from time to time in various regions across country to gauge the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency alert broadcasting capabilities of the systems in place, of various mobile operators and cell broadcast system, the release read.
This kind of testing is called Cell Broadcast Alert System testing and is meant to enhance emergency communication during disasters and ensure the safety of the citizens. The emergency flash messages were sent both in English and Hindi across all the telecom services including Reliance Jio, BSNL, Airtel and Vodafone.
According to DoT chief executive officer Rajkumar Upadhyay, the testing technology is currently available only with a foreign vendor and hence the department is developing it in house, which will be used to send the trial alerts at the pan-India level.
What do we know about wireless emergency alerts?
Government entities leverage wireless emergency alert technology, which comes pre-enabled on Android and iOS devices, to promptly convey crucial updates to their citizens. This service is primarily employed during emergency situations to ensure that the public remains informed and secure.
These alerts are brief messages authorised by government bodies and transmitted through wireless carriers directly to phones in specific geographical regions. Considering how handy people keep their smartphones, these alerts serve as a highly effective means to notify individuals about potential disasters.
Wireless emergency alerts function as instruments for promptly sharing current information and instructions. By circumventing intermediaries and delivering essential information directly to people, these alerts eliminate the risk of misinformation and empower them to make informed decisions.
One can easily disable wireless emergency alert notification settings to stop receiving these updates. However, given this is a critical service, it is recommended to keep this feature enabled in order to receive key updates from the relevant authorities.
These alerts are not new, in fact, USA started using them in 1996 as AMBER alerts and still continue to. When a child is abducted, the authorities issue an AMBER alert and sends a broadcast to electronic highway signs, cell phones, Internet commercials, and conventional radio and television programming.
The alerts are broadcast in and around the area where the abduction happened. Multi-state AMBER alerts are also issued if law enforcement believes the abductor has crossed state boundaries with the kid or may do so.
This effort came in response to the case of 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who had been abducted and killed in Arlington, Texas that year. Soon after, AMBER, for “America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response,” became part of federal and state laws.
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