Early warning systems (EWS) save lives when disaster strikes. They provide critical advance notice of impending hazards and crises, enabling people to take swift and appropriate action to protect themselves, their families and their communities. Mobile technology, particularly cell broadcast (CB), has played a pivotal role in EWS for more than two decades.
As the United Nations (UN) Secretary General leads a global commitment to expand EWS coverage and humanitarian response efforts shift increasingly towards anticipatory action, assessing how CB technology has evolved is key. It will provide a greater understanding of new and emerging opportunities, as well as prevailing challenges, in leveraging CB technology as part of an effective EWS.
CB has gained recognition for its ability to deliver targeted warnings based on location, avoid network congestion and ensure that users are alerted to critical information with audible alerts and onscreen messages. It is a key channel to disseminate information. However, to successfully reach everyone at risk, multi-channel systems are essential. CB can and should be used in conjunction with other channels, such as location-based SMS (LB-SMS), radio, television and sirens. CB complements these channels, and the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP)2 should be implemented across channels to ensure harmonisation.
At its core, CB is a technology that allows mobile network infrastructure to communicate with mobile handsets in one direction. As part of day-to-day network functionality, cell towers communicate with mobile handsets within their reach, providing information such as the network they are currently connected to. Usually, this information is invisible to the handset user and exists only to enable the network to function on connected handsets.
Strengths of CB:
- Rapid distribution
- Geographically targeted distribution
- Audible and visual alert
- Privacy conscious
- Secure/difficult to infiltrate or replicate