Civil Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says the implementation of a new nationwide channel for sending alerts about emergencies to mobile phones is on track to be up and running by the end of the year.
Cell broadcast alerting is a new way of sending information to mobile phones in a set area without people needing to download an app or subscribe to a service.
“The alerts will appear similar to text messages. They are received automatically and for free by all cell broadcast enabled mobile phones in the area,” Mr Brownlee says.
“Discussions with New Zealand’s major telecommunications companies are progressing well and we expect to have contracts signed in the coming weeks.
“Once the cell broadcast alerting system is up and running, an alert will be sent out to mobile phones through the cell towers in the affected areas in the event of an emergency.
“As no technology is 100 per cent failsafe or equally useful in all conditions and emergencies, multiple channels will continue to be used to send alerts when emergencies happen.
“These channels include radio, television, websites, various social media, smartphone apps, sirens and others.
“A range of alerting methods were assessed before cell broadcast was chosen but this system gives the best combination of reach and reliability in New Zealand’s conditions.
“It will get information about an emergency to at-risk communities faster and more reliably than ever before. Plus, cell broadcast technology is not vulnerable to network overloading, so even when the networks get busy after a disaster, alerts can still be sent quickly.
“The system is well established elsewhere in the world in counties such as the US, Japan, Israel, Chile, the Netherlands and Taiwan.
“Countries including Canada, Peru, the UAE and the Philippines are in the process of implementing cell broadcast alerting.
“The Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management and the three mobile network operators – 2degrees, Vodafone and Spark – are working together to enable cell broadcast technology in New Zealand for the first time.
“The Ministry is working alongside the Fire Service, Police, Ministry of Health and Ministry for Primary Industries to develop a system that will work for the whole of government.
“Cell broadcast alerts don’t replace the need for people to pay attention to natural warnings, which is particularly important in the case of earthquakes and potential tsunamis,” Mr Brownlee says.