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Public warning

Covid-19: Five scenarios for using a public warning system

Covid-19: Five scenarios for using a public warning system hero image
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According to the European Centre for Disease Control  there have been over 2.6 Million cases of COVID-19 in Europe since the start of the pandemic in December 2019, representing 15% of the global total.  Russia (739 947), the United Kingdom (291 373), Spain (256 619), Italy (243 344) and Germany (199 726) have reported  the most cases.   Almost 198,000 deaths have been recorded in Europe with the most occurring in the United Kingdom (44 968) followed by Italy (34 984), France (30 029), Spain (28 409) and Russia (11 614).

With the exception of Bulgaria and Romania, the 14-day case notification rate as of 10 July (ref 3) reveals a downward trend across Europe with the death rate showing a similar pattern (Ref: ECDC report)

Many countries have chosen to ease some lock-down restrictions to enable businesses to operate and for people to live a more normal life. However, this renewed freedom could result in sudden spikes in infection rates and the prospect of a much larger second wave as winter approaches. Indeed, many countries are seeing COVID-19 hotspots emerge on a local level.

In Spain, the region of Catalonia was the second-most affected region after Madrid and is now facing the highest number of new infections.  France, Italy, Germany, Greece and the UK have all had localised outbreaks in recent weeks and in eastern European countries are facing rising waves of coronavirus infections, leading to riots in Serbia, mandatory face masks in Croatia and travel bans or quarantines imposed by Hungary (see Euronews 12 July).

It is clear that governments are facing a long-term roller-coaster ride to contain local COVID-19 outbreaks and prevent a repeat of countrywide lock-downs.

 

How can public warning technology be used to keep people safe?

 

Several countries have chosen to invest in technology that uses smartphone apps to support track and trace programs. For these to be effective, the population needs to download and use the apps. Studies from Oxford University suggested 60% adoption is needed, yet no country has been able to achieve this so the value of such apps is in question.

During this long-term crisis, people will be reliant on accurate and trusted information from government leaders. However, many countries are failing to communicate effectively with people at risk and provide guidance on safe areas and the changing rules for day to day living with the threat of COVID-19.

Mobile phones are used by over 85% of the population, and yet most European governments are not using public warning technology to directly warn and inform the public using the mobile network to send information via text messages. This can done using 2 technologies:

  • Cell Broadcast (CB)
  • Location Based SMS (LB-SMS)

National public warning systems are in place in just a few European countries today, the Netherlands, Greece, Iceland, Belgium, Sweden, Norway are all using the mobile phone networks to warn and inform the public during COVID-19.

A public warning system (PWS) can communicate the right information to the right people at the right time and in the right place – using the right channel.

Below are 4 scenarios during the COVID-19 pandemic where a PWS could be used to send targeted messages to everyone in a specific geographical area.

1. A localised lock down is ordered to manage a new outbreak.

 

Right Information

Right People

Right Time

Right Place

The right channels

Provide instructions on social distancing rules, wearing masks, staying home etc. 

 

  • Residents
  • Regular commuters
  • Business owners

At the start of lock-down

Target messages to everyone within the defined lock-down area

  • LB-SMS
  • Apps
  • Email
  • Social media
  • Voice calls
  • Digital display signs

Provide specific information to help vulnerable people or those that may need special assistance at home.

  • The elderly or the disabled.
  • Include relatives or careers who may have vulnerable family members in the area

Alert people on entering the lock-down area make them aware of what restrictions in place.

 

  • Visitors to the area: delivery vehicles, shoppers, business travellers etc.

Triggered by movement into the area

Anyone entering the lock-down area

  • Cell Broadcast 
  • LB-SMS
  • APPS
  • Digital Display Signs

Provide updates on the changing situation.

 

All the above

Daily or weekly throughout the lock-down period

 

Target messages to everyone within the defined lock-down area

  • LB-SMS
  • Apps
  • Email
  • Social media
  • Voice calls
  • Digital display signs

Provide all clear message when the threat has passed, and people can return to normal.

 

All the above

Once the lock-down is lifted

 

  • LB-SMS
  • Apps
  • Email
  • Social media
  • Voice calls
  • Digital display signs

 

2. A city is put back into lock-down

In addition to informing local residents, the authorities also need to contact people who visited the city recently to advise them to self isolate or go for a test.

 

Right Information

Right People

Right Time

Right Place

The right channels

Advise the public to self-isolate for 14 days or go for a test.

  • Mobile phone users that were connected to cell towers in the affected area in the recent past.

When a new cluster is identified

Anyone that was in the affected area in the recent past

  • LB-SMS

 

 

3. Managing Crowded Places

Lock-down is eased, the authorities need to maintain social distancing in public places including parks, city centres or beaches.  The PWS can be used to visualise the change in crowd movements over time by showing on a map how many mobile devices are in the defined area.  This makes it possible to monitor when a crowd is reaching dangerous levels which will increase the risk of the virus spreading.

The PWS can then be used to send alerts as follows:

Right Information

Right People

Right Time

Right Place

The right channels

Alert the public to avoid visiting a crowded area and return home

  • People approaching a crowded area.

Triggered by movement within xx miles of the crowded area.

 

Displayed on motorway road signage in the surrounding area.

Anyone within xx miles of the crowded area.

  • LB-SMS
  • Apps
  • Digital signage
  • Radio, TV

Alert the public to disperse from the crowded area

  • People already within the crowded area

When the authorities take the decision to act.

People already within the crowded area

  • SMS
  • Apps

 

4. Communicate with travellers in overseas locations where a lock-down is declared.

When a country declares a new local or national lock-down there will be be people in that country who are visitors from overseas.  A PWS that uses location based technology makes it possible to see exactly how many citizens from your own country are in the affected foreign destination.  The authorities can then contact those citizens through the mobile phone network to provide information and assistance. 

Right Information

Right People

Right Time

Right Place

The right channels

Alert your citizens to a new or ongoing threat of COVID-19 in the country they are visiting.

 

 

 

 

  • Mobile phone users from your own country that are roaming overseas.

Once a hotspot is identified in that county.

People located across an entire  country  or specific areas within a country

  • LB-SMS
  • App
  • Voice calls to mobiles

Provide information on the situation and advice on how to stay safe.

 

Provide information on how to repatriate or contact the authorities for help coming home.

 

Throughout the lock-down period

Provide an all clear once the threat is no longer there.

After lock-down is lifted

 

5. Foreign nationals (inbound roamers) visiting your country from overseas

This is the reverse situation from the previous example.   In this case the authorities can identify the nationality of overseas visitors that arrive at their own border and provide information or instructions to those users in their own native language.  These people can also be sent follow up messages during their stay, should the situation change. 

Right Information

Right People

Right Time

Right Place

The right channels

Provide instructions on restricted areas, social distancing or quarantine rules.

 

Instructions on how to download the official APP

Instructions on which telephone number to call for medical assistance. 

 

 

  • Foreign nationals visiting the country

 

On arrival in the country when the mobile phone connects to the network.

Arrival at border entry points

  • LB-SMS
  • App

Provide regular updates during their stay in country.

 

 

Throughout lock-down

All inbound roamers connected to the mobile phone network

Provide follow up messages during their stay, or send all clear once the threat is no longer there.

After lock-down is lifted.

 

Summary:

European countries have 2 years to implement a public warning system under EECC Article 110, yet with the ongoing threat from coronavirus, there is a more urgent need for good public communication.

Everbridge has spent 20 years developing public warning solutions. Cell Broadcast and Location-based SMS are robust, reliable technologies for warning and informing the public.

Everbridge is the recognized expert in providing public warning solutions and our alerting platform has been used by governments to send millions of messages to the people of the Netherlands, Greece, New Zealand, Norway, Iceland and Sweden.

We all hope a second wave can be averted, but as people are enjoying  the European summer with fewer restrictions, the threat of a deeper winter pandemic is becoming more real.

Public warning systems should now be considered by all governments as an essential part of a holistic strategy of measures to tackle the virus.

Find out more in this short video 

 

References

  • ECDC: COVID-19 situation update worldwide, as of 15 July 2020 link 
  • ECDC: Resurgence of reported cases of COVID-19 in the EU/EEA, the UK and EU candidate and potential candidate countries 2 July 2020  link
  • ECDC: country reports link 
  • FT.com: Catalonia government  imposes new restrictions  link
  • Euronews: COVID-19: Surge in new coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe prompts new restrictions link 
  • Oxford University research into contact tracing apps link