With an alarm beep and a message on the mobile: this is how 112 will notify us if there is an emergency in the area | Technology
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If anything has become clear in the last two years, it is that almost anything can happen at any time: the storm Philomenamore typical of the film Tomorrow (2004) that from the reality to which we are accustomed, the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano, in La Palma, the floods that occur every year in different regions of Spain… In order to prevent citizens from this type of incidents in a faster and more efficient way, the General Directorate of Civil Protection and Emergencies, belonging to the Ministry of the Interior, prepares the System of Warnings to the Population (PWSfor its acronym in English), which will be operational starting this summer.
The deployment of this system began last October. Although it could have been based on the emission of SMS, Civil Protection has opted for technology Cell Broadcast, cell broadcasting, which consists in the emission of radio messages. As explained to this newspaper SIA, one of the subsidiaries of the Spanish multinational Indra, which is in charge of technical development, “the antennas will radiate, as broadcast or transmission, the alert to all the terminals that are connected to them”.
As explained by Leonardo Marcos, general director of Civil Protection, in an interview with EL PAÍS, this broadcast system is “ultra-fast, works in real time, occupies very little bandwidth and is automatic for all devices in the area. default”. But, above all, it guarantees that it arrives immediately, unlike SMS, which can take several hours. In some disaster situations, reaction times can be very short, so it is essential to have communication systems that offer and guarantee the highest possible efficiency.
The notification to all devices in the area means that not only citizens or residents who have a telephone registered in Spain can receive the alerts, but also anyone of any origin (such as tourists, who are only passing through ), and with any smartphone — as long as it is compatible with the system —, you can receive the message if you are in the affected area, regardless of the telephone company you have contracted. The messages will be available in Spanish, in the co-official language according to the community and in an international language that will surely be English. If a massive presence of, for example, French tourists had previously been detected, it could also be broadcast in a fourth language, in that case French. The video shown below is an example of the type of warning that could be found.
The alerts will consist of an alarm sound accompanied by a pop-up message, such as a notification, which will not disappear from the screen until the user confirms that they have read it. If the user does not confirm, the beep will continue to resound. Beyond that, you won’t need to do anything; nor to start receiving notices, since the process will be automatic and nationwide.
“A 112 in reverse”
Leonardo Marcos defines it as a “112 in reverse”, since it is the emergency service that notifies the citizen and not the other way around. Of course, for it to work and the citizen can receive the notifications, he must have a smartphone that is not too old, although it is yet to be defined with which versions of each operating system they will be compatible. The general director insists that “the companies of software they also have to do a certain update” so that everything develops correctly.
The fact that having or not having a smartphone determine the possibility of receiving the alert could become a cause for concern for those who do not have one. However, the general director insists that this system is complementary to traditional ones, such as radio or television. In no case will the channels that have been used up to now be dispensed with. Although, since the new system is the most direct and fast to date, it might be useful to have a phone that is compatible with it.
Cell broadcast alerts will be issued automatically from 20 centers: 112 of each Autonomous Community (19 in total) and the National Emergency Monitoring and Coordination Center (CENEM) of the General Directorate of Civil Protection. It will be issued from one or another center depending on where the emergency has occurred and the area to be alerted. For example, in the case of the eruption of the Cumbre Vieja volcano in La Palma, if it had been in operation, the alert would have been issued on 112 in the Canary Islands.
This route will only be used at alert levels one and two (of three levels established by the Civil Protection protocol). Both the eruption of the volcano and the storm Philomena they were marked as level two, so it would have been useful in both cases. It will also serve for some floods or even tidal waves that may occur in some areas of the Spanish coast. In short, in any “emergency situation of collective affectation of a certain gravity”. As explained by SIA, “these are incidents and crisis situations, such as cyberattacks, terrorism, the effects of extreme natural phenomena…”.
The organization had been thinking about starting this initiative for some time, but Leonardo Marcos acknowledges: “The definitive boost was given to us by the European recovery funds.” Last year the project was tendered and won by SIA. Both the company itself and Civil Protection explain that the implementation of this system is the result of the provisions of article 10 of European Directive 1972/2018 (of the European Electronic Communications Code), which requires member countries to have an alert system for its entire population before June 21, 2022 “to better protect citizens, visitors and tourists during natural disasters and other crisis situations.”
Although other countries have been using systems of this type for years, such as Japan (for the earthquakes that occur there frequently), according to Marcos, the European neighbors that had launched something like this had done so with an irregular deployment, not like the proposed by Spain, which is based on a single national “brain” (although the notices are issued in the regions themselves). “This system puts us in the lead”, declares the director, who also insists that, since it is not an SMS and there is no interaction with users, the privacy it offers is much greater and it is not necessary to download anything, as is the case with security-related applications such as AlertCops. In the case of cell broadcast, no citizen data is collected, not even the read confirmation of the alert.
As explained by the subsidiary in charge of technical development, it is “a highly scalable project, as it can gradually incorporate new coverage, and it can be replicated in other countries or regions”. Leonardo Marcos insists that they are already thinking of a future qualitative leap and of sending the warnings from the European Galileo radionavigation and positioning system, the alternative that the European Union is working on so as not to depend on the American GPS.
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