Warning SMS: Green light for cell broadcast technology for disasters

The past year has shown that, thanks to sirens being dismantled in many places, the German alarm network is no longer powerful enough to warn the population of emerging dangers at short notice. This was demonstrated not only by the floods in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate in July 2021, but also by the nationwide warning day planned for September 9, 2021, but canceled by the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK).

Now the German government has cleared the way for the introduction of a disaster control alert system via mobile communications. Based on so-called cell broadcast technology (“warning SMS”), mobile communications networks can in future also be used to warn the population in the event of disasters and major accidents. In the United States, it has long been an indispensable part of alerting the population in the event of storms and other hazards.

The German Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) has published a guideline regulating the technical details. A corresponding draft of the so-called DE-Alerts was already submitted by the Federal Network Agency in December 2021. This means that all the legal and technical framework conditions for implementing the alert system in the German mobile networks are now in place.

Cell broadcast technology enables the authorities to send a warning via text message to all cell phone users currently in a specific area in the event of an emergency. The area in a cell broadcast is usually several square kilometers in size.

The warning is then transmitted not like a personal text message, but comparable to a radio signal. Neither an app nor an Internet connection are required for this. It works not only with modern smartphones, but also with simple cell phones. The directive sees cell broadcasts as an additional means of warning to known means of alerting such as radio or sirens, and not as a replacement for the free apps such as Katwarn or NINA.

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Across networks

The DE-Alert specifies the technical requirements that mobile network operators must meet when implementing Cell Broadcast in mobile networks. These include in particular the connection to the central warning system of the federal government (Modulares Warnsystem – MoWaS) as well as the parameters of the warning messages to be broadcast. The messages are sent in parallel to all German networks. The directive stipulates that network operators must address all devices – not just the cell phones of their own customers. So if, for example, a Vodafone customer does not have a network at the moment but is within range of a Telekom cell, he or she will receive the warning from this network operator. The system also works with foreign SIM cards.

With the establishment of DE-Alert, all active mobile network operators will also be required to operate at least two Cell Broadcast Centers (CBC) that receive public warnings and process them immediately.

According to the Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport, DE-Alert went into effect at the beginning of March. Mobile network operators must now install the cell broadcast technology in their networks within a year. A first nationwide test could be conducted on Alert Day in September 2022.

iPhones already support the technology. Apple provides information about this in the support document “Information about emergency alerts and official warnings on the iPhone and Apple Watch.” No configuration on the part of the user is required.

After the flood disaster last summer, the call for an additional warning tool had become loud. Following heavy rain, numerous towns and villages were flooded in mid-July. 183 people died, most of them in the Rhineland-Palatinate. It later emerged that warnings of the disaster had been issued too late or with insufficient urgency in some affected communities.

Federal Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) told the “Rheinpfalz” newspaper that the flood disaster had completely changed the lives of people in the affected regions. “Everything must be done to better protect people during disasters. That’s why it’s important and right that Cell Broadcast is now being implemented quickly, so that the population can be warned quickly and directly at any time.”

Digression: warning SMS for companies

The dicomsys offers companies to reach all employees via a simple (Rest API) connection in emergency situations. In case of emergencies such as fire, leakage of hazardous substances and chemicals, employees can be automatically informed via warning SMS in a fraction of a second.

dicomsys is your reliable contact for SMS communication and will be happy to advise you on technical integration and processing. Our service can be easily integrated into your system environment. Through the direct connection of dicomsys to the mobile network operators, the SMS are delivered to the mobile devices of their recipients in the fastest and most secure way and this is possible worldwide networked.