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5 million mobile phones receive Civil Defence emergency test alert

Most people will be familiar with emergency alerts, but for others it may come as a very loud surprise. Photo / File...

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Most people will be familiar with emergency alerts, but for others it may come as a very loud surprise. Photo / File

Did your phone buzz?

More than an estimated five million mobile phones received an emergency alert test around 6.16pm on Sunday.

Civil Defence Emergency Management Director Gary Knowles said an Emergency Mobile Alert is a vital information channel for alerting people to threats to their life, health or property.

“The nationwide test is a way to check our systems, the cell towers and your phone’s ability to receive an Emergency Mobile Alert, so we have confidence it will perform as it should in an emergency.”

Emergency mobile alert sent out at 6.16pm. Photo / Supplied
Emergency mobile alert sent out at 6.16pm. Photo / Supplied

Knowles said when emergencies happen, Emergency Mobile Alert is a vital channel to help keep our communities safe.

“Our findings from the 2021 Disaster preparedness survey reported that 90 per cent of New Zealanders either received an EMA themselves or were near someone who did in the last year.”

“Emergency Mobile Alert is an additional channel to help keep Aotearoa safe in an emergency and does not replace other ways to stay informed or natural warnings.

“No form of technology is completely failsafe, so it doesn’t replace other alerting channels such as radio or social media, or the need to act upon natural warning signs. If you feel your life is in danger, don’t wait for an official warning. Remember – if an earthquake is long or strong, get gone.”

A disaster preparedness survey from 2021 found that 90 per cent of New Zealanders either received an alert or were near someone that did last year. Knowles expected a similar proportion to receive an alert on their phone during tonight’s test.

Nema is the system’s “custodian”, responsible for monitoring its use and effectiveness, managing improvements, coordinating meetings and reporting to an oversight governance committee.

Who presses the send button?

The following government agencies are the only ones authorised to send alerts:

• NZ Police

• Fire and Emergency

• Ministry of Health

• Ministry for Primary Industries

• Nema

• The 16 local civil defence emergency management groups, responsible for emergency management in their areas, are allowed to send alerts too.

What circumstances trigger an alert?

Besides scheduled test alerts, agencies will press send only where there is a serious threat to your life, health and property.

Natural disasters are the first that come to mind – earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, wildfires and floods – but terrorist attacks, armed offenders at large, seriously contaminated drinking water or outbreaks of a deadly virus can count.

The protocol states that agencies will issue only “high-priority alerts”. Some criteria, such as how certain and severe the emergency is, and how urgent the response must be, help guide that decision, especially where the information available is incomplete or there’s some doubt about the situation.

Other considerations include whether the public would expect to receive an alert or they feel “over-alerted”. And sometimes, an alert might be issued where it doesn’t qualify as a high priority – including where it’s important to keep communication lines open with affected areas.

– Additional reporting The Spinoff





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