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Otago gearing up for test of new emergency alerting system

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Otago’s emergency management staff are gearing up for the first test of the national mobile alerting system on Sunday 26 November between 6-7pm.

The new system automatically sends a short message to all cellphones that are capable of receiving the alerts, switched on and within an area of mobile phone coverage. It uses cell broadcast technology, meaning there is no need to sign up or download an app to receive the service.

Chris Hawker, Director of Emergency Management Otago, said that the new mobile alerts would be an additional way of keeping Otago’s communities safe in emergencies. "We will be sending these messages in times of genuine threat, such as a tsunami, a flood or wildfire. They will be a new channel of communication that we can use to reach many residents and visitors in affected areas.

"The new mobile alerts won’t reach everyone so we will still be using all the other means available to us, including local radio stations, news media, web and social media to alert and inform Otago communities."

Emergency Management Otago staff have been trained to send the alerts, which are sent via cell towers but using a separate technology to text messages. Any enabled phone within range of a targeted cell tower should receive the messages.

A small number of agencies have access to the system, which will only be used to warn of serious threats. They are the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management, Emergency Management Otago and other regional civil defence groups around the country, Police, Fire and Emergency NZ, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Mr Hawker said that when the system was launched it would probably reach between a third and a half of mobile phone users initially. Not all makes and models of phones are currently capable of receiving the alerts. As people progressively replace their phones or update the operating system, the number of people able to receive the alerts will increase. There is more information and a list of phones compatible with the system on the Ministry of Civil Defence website www.civildefence.govt.nz if people want to check in advance of the test.

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