An important deadline is ahead for Europe
EU Member states have until December 21 to transpose EECC Article 110 into national law and this week BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) has published their long awaited guidelines on ‘how to assess the effectiveness of public warning systems transmitted by different means’. European countries will be looking closely at these guidelines as they consider the technology options available for meeting the requirements of Article 110.
Avoiding a compromise on public safety
However, while the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) directive mandates the use of mobile phones as the distribution channel for public warnings, countries have a degree of freedom over how they choose to transpose the EECC into national law and which technology they deploy.
As the world faces the prospect of a post-COVID economic recession, decisions may be made on economic grounds resulting in the least expensive solution which could compromise public safety. Also, countries that are fearful of making the wrong choice with technology may choose to develop their own public warning systems rather than go to the market to buy a fit for purpose and proven solution. However, by taking this approach countries may find that maintenance and development costs add up over the long term, resulting in a false economy.
Yet, there is another way to avoid compromising on public safety when the public purse is under pressure.
Technology options for meeting the regulation
Under Article 110 of the EECC, effective public warning systems are broadly defined as those which can reach everyone affected via mobile devices, either in a defined target area, or across the whole country, rapidly and without any opt-in requirement. They must also reach a very high percentage of people within the target area, including visitors in their native languages, allow for easy two-way communication and detail the number of messages sent and received.
The BEREC guidelines have a clear purpose:
“The purpose of this document is not to rank ECS-PWS’ according to their performance but to provide Member States with the means to compare the effectiveness of the relevant systems keeping in mind their respective national circumstances and envisioned purpose for the ECS-PWS.”
BEREC provides initial analyses of the performance of Cell Broadcast, Location-based SMS and IAS-PWS (mobile application based public warning systems, indicating a wide diversity of practices in Europe with countries appearing to have taken different approaches with regards to which technology they are considering.
“For example, Member States reported that in the next two years they are considering to deploy various public warning systems: location based SMS (in 8 Member States), Cell Broadcast (in 7 Member States)”
Both CB and LB-SMS are therefore being considered equally.
Given that CB is the fastest and most reliable way to send a message during a rapid onset emergency, rather like a ‘digital siren’ it could be a good start point for countries that need to reach larger populations very quickly during natural disasters like storms, volcano, wildfires or earthquake. Cell broadcast technology is already used successfully in The United States, The Netherlands, Taiwan, Philippines, Chile, UAE, Oman, Saudi-Arabia, Greece, Mauritius and New Zealand.
However, European countries that do not experience natural disasters or have smaller populations, may choose to deploy LB-SMS which has added capabilities for assessing the number of people within the incident area, alerting across all phases of an incident, allowing for 2-way communications and targeting specific groups and more.
A 3 step ‘phased’ approach to public warning
Rather than commit to one technology from the start, a phased approach would mean that countries can choose their preferred technology and add as much functionality as they need, at their own pace. For example:
Deploying a mobile alerting solution that meets the regulation, is capable of alerting the entire population and is suited to the size of the country and the type of threats they typically face- either cell broadcast or location-based SMS.
Building on this foundation by consolidation all distribution channels (sirens, radio, tv, email, voice, digital signage) under one front end tool for multi-channel alerting. This would allow the message to be composed once then distributed across multiple channels, as well as offering support for newer channels such as social media and native apps. EENA endorses this approach in their review of public warning systems (2019).
Additional capabilities can be deployed which further leverage location intelligence and combine this with historical device data from within the operator network.
These capabilities mean that it becomes possible to send very targeted alerts to specific groups and follow up with alerts as the incident evolves and concludes. For example, after ordering an evacuation of a city centre, you send a follow up ‘all clear’ message – not to everyone in the area, but only to those that received the initial evacuation message.
Reaching people across both place and time means that you can effectively ‘turn back the clock’ to alert people based on where they were in the past as well as alerting them to incidents, hazards or hotspots they are moving towards.
- Visibility of population density in impact areas
- Ability to send follow up messages to the public and receive 2-way replies thereby supporting search and rescue efforts and informing incident response teams
- Monitor crowd movements and asses if evacuation orders are being followed effectively
- Communicate with travellers that may be at risk from critical events overseas
- Ability to ‘turn back the clock’ by leveraging existing historic data from the mobile network.
- Ability to provide after action reports
Consider a scenario like COVID-19 or the nerve agent attack in the UK in 2018, where the threat was invisible and present over many months. Having the ability to alert people that may have been exposed to a life-threatening virus or chemical in the past few days could help to save lives if similar incidents occur again.
Equally being able to alert people that are entering a hotspot or incident zone need to be alerted and given instruction. This can be achieved with both CB and LB-SMS.
Centralised or Regional Public Warning?
It is also important to note here that countries can choose to deploy either a national public warning solution or several regional solutions as long as the entire country is covered.
Countries such as Spain and Germany, which have autonomous regions, could have a network of regional systems in the style of Norway, which has location-based SMS public warnings across all its municipalities, together giving 100 per cent coverage across the country.
The aim for any country is a fully enabled, public warning system that can reach the right people at the right time, using the right technology.
Implementing a system which does all of this signals a government fully committed to its public duty of keeping people as safe as possible. Such a system also offers full accountability, ensuring that in the case of a public inquiry, for example, authorities can prove exactly what action they took and when, across as many channels as needed.
There is no one size of public warning system that fits all – for likely use cases or budget. A phased approach, therefore, in which countries start with a fit-for-purpose system, which they can extend over time for greater effectiveness, seems to be the most sensible way of meeting the legal requirements at the same time as keeping the public as safe as possible.
Countries can be assured that no matter which technology they select, Everbridge is the proven expert for meeting and exceeding EECC Article 110 and other global initiatives for countrywide population alerting.