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New disaster warning system rolled out across Germany

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New disaster warning system rolled out across Germany
A mobile phone receives a test warning on the official German 'Warning Day'. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Frey

An emergency alert system that causes piercing sounds on mobile phones is now functional across Germany, operators have announced.

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Anyone who happened to be out and about on Germany's last 'Warntag' will remember the sound: a high-pitched beeping that continues for several seconds and can cause a major disturbance when it happens on several phones at once.

As of Thursday, these emergency alerts - which are broadcast to all mobile phone users on a certain radio network - can be received in every state in Germany. 

The announcement from the three major mobile network operators - Vodafone, Telefónica (O2) and Deutsche Telekom - was welcomed by the Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK), who branded it "another important step in strengthening civil protection".

READ ALSO: All cell phone users in Germany to be part of disaster 'warning day'

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The noisy mobile alerts are designed to warn users of oncoming catastrophes such as major floods and wildfires. The system functions even if phones are on silent and doesn't require people to register or download any apps. 

The system was rolled out in Germany following severe floods in Rhineland-Palatinate and North-Rhine Westphalia in July 2021 in which 180 people lost their lives.

Investigations following the disaster concluded that residents hadn't been warned of the floods in time and that evacuation orders should have been made earlier than they were. 

It prompted soul-searching on the part of officials and the rapid adopting of the cell broadcast alert system, which is widely used in other EU countries. Mobile operators were given a deadline of February 23rd, 2023 to activate the system nationwide - a deadline that has now been met. 

The system is seen as one of the most effective ways to reach as many people as possible in a short period of time, making it ideal for crisis situations. 

However, there are still concerns that people who don't have smartphones or who don't have the latest updates installed won't receive an alert. In fact, Vodafone estimates that around 25 percent of phones won't pick up the signal. It is also unable to reach users when phones are on flight mode. 

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The mobile network operator is also pressing smartphone manufacturers to create user-friendly ways to read and revisit the alert.

In a key piece of feedback from the last 'warning day' back in December, many smartphone users said they had swiped the alert away automatically and then struggled to find it again in order to read it. 

READ ALSO: How successful was Germany's latest 'Warning Day'?

 

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