You can soon receive public alerts directly on your smartphone. Since Tuesday, a brand new security system has been deployed throughout France. It is called the “FR Alert” and it was developed by the Ministry of the Interior to send messages to mobile phones from persons present in an area affected by a major incident. 20 minutes tells you all about this new device.
How does “FR-Alert” work?
“FR-Alert” is not a mobile application. The system does not install or download. “FR-Alert” is a device based on “cell broadcast” technology. The messages are sent via telephone antennas to the laptops located near them, in the form of radio waves and not via SMS, to avoid saturating the network. The distribution of warnings therefore takes place according to more or less large areas and in a fairly precise way.
If you are in the appropriate transmission room, you will receive a message accompanied by a specific beep and a vibration. It works even if your phone is in silent mode … but not if it is in airplane mode or off. However, the government states that the “cell broadcast” currently only works on 4G and soon 5G, which excludes people who do not have a smartphone. “The geolocated SMS system operating on 2G, 3G and 4G will be implemented later,” the Elysée specifies.
In which cases will the French receive messages?
The Interior Ministry says the alerts will be sent to people in “an area facing a threat or serious danger”. These can be natural events (flood, storm, cyclone, fire, tsunami, volcanic eruption, etc.), biological and chemical accidents (pollution, gas emissions, nuclear incident, etc.) health hazards (epidemic, pandemic, agri-food incident), etc.), technological and industrial incidents (breakdowns of telecommunications equipment, serious accidents on road, rail or air networks, industrial incidents, etc.) or serious incidents in public security such as terrorist attacks on terrorists.
The notices will provide information about the nature of the risk, its location, the attitude to take and possibly a link to get more information.
Note that the “FR-Alert” was tested “on a real population” for the first time in Bouches-du-Rhône. On 17 and 18 May, the system was tested during a risk management exercise “of an extraordinary scale”, the prefect of the region Christophe Mirmand had emphasized at the time. Called Domino, the exercise, which had mobilized more than 1,000 people every day around Etang de Berre, had proved crucial.
Why did the SAIP system, the ancestor of “FR-Alert”, fail?
If this “FR-Alert” unit is required by a European directive, France would have already attempted the operation between 2016 and 2018 with the SAIP system. Created after the attacks in Paris, the goal was the same: “to warn the people of a given area of an imminent danger”. But the means were different. SAIP was a downloadable application where users had to enable geolocation and notifications. As a result, only one million people downloaded the app.
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This was not available with some operating systems and had to remain open on iPhones to work. It also proved to be quite inefficient in 2016 in Nice. In 2016, the alarm was triggered three hours after the attack, which took place on July 14 on the Promenade des Anglais. Under these circumstances, there is no chance for SAIP to compete with Facebook’s “security check” feature or with the speed of information dissemination on Twitter. The government had therefore decided to stop the charges.