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Emergency Broadcast System Coming To Cell Phones 256

Posted by samzenpus
from the set-your-emergency-to-vibrate dept.
gambit3 writes "The Emergency Broadcast System that interrupts TV programming in times of crisis is jumping to a new format where it might be able to reach you better — on your cell phone. The communications company Alcatel-Lucent announced Tuesday that it's creating a Broadcast Message Center that will allow government agencies to send cell phone users specific information in the event of a local, state or national emergency. It will be similar to the TV alerts in that the text messages will be geographically targeted for areas where a tornado alert or major road closure, for example, is in effect."
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Emergency Broadcast System Coming To Cell Phones

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  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:27PM (#34258700)

    will you have to pay for incoming texts? and maybe even roaming text fees as well?

    Will it still work if you have texts blocked? (as to not have to pay for incoming texts?)

    • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:35PM (#34258842) Journal

      I Really doubt it they'll charge you for it. If they can have Toll Free phone numbers I think they can manage toll free Text messages.

      And if you block texts, I suppose that'd be about the same as having your TV turned off - or not hooked up to any input.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by rwa2 (4391) *

        Oh, don't worry, you will pay for it.

        But instead of a nickel or a quarter per alert, it'll just come as another mandatory "911" fee on your monthly statement, for your convenience. You'll end up wishing they only charged you a quarter per alert ;-P But the government will negotiate the rate for you, so you will be guaranteed that it will be fair.

        • by rwa2 (4391) *

          ..ly generous to the carriers. :P

        • by eleuthero (812560)
          This is not necessarily new - they have had opt-in free text messaging services in different areas of the country for at least two years now. Will the carriers start charging if it becomes nationwide? Yes. Have they up to now? Not where I used to live.
          • by Obfuscant (592200)
            This is not necessarily new - they have had opt-OUT free text messaging services in different areas of the country for at least two years now.

            There, fixed that for you.

            Have you ever tried to opt-out of any of these 'call everyone in the vicinity' emergency warning services? The day the local paper carried the story of how proud the local Sheriff was that they had paid to provide this "service" to the local residents, I called up the company they said was providing the service and said "I opt-out. Do not

        • >>>"911" fee on your monthly statement

          I guess I'm really lucky. My cell company (virginmobile) has a monthly cost of only $0.00 per month. I only get charged for calls or texts I make (18 and 10 cents), plus 6% sales tax. That's it. No hidden fees or universal service/911 funds.

          • For some of us - 10 cents a text would destroy bank accounts. I can't remember the last time I was under 25 texts a day (which would be 75 dollars a month, just in texts). I've gone up into the 100+ texts a day when trying to plan things with friends and mass texts.

          • by schnell (163007)

            That's it. No hidden fees or universal service/911 funds.

            Probably not for long [post-gazette.com]. Pre-paid wireless accounts in the US have long been exempt from funding 911 service but there is legislation working its way through congress to change that.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by Obfuscant (592200)
              Pre-paid wireless accounts in the US have long been exempt from funding 911 service but there is legislation working its way through congress to change that.

              Not only that, but cities and counties are getting into the act, wanting to add franchise fees to cellular services to pay for E911 and public safety dispatch call centers. The ever-money-hungry city and county pols are unhappy that cell phone callers can clog the lines of the 911 PSAP without paying to fund the call answerers. They don't see the abil

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by will3477 (705414)
      I think you bring up some really good points about fees that cell phone companies charge, but I think this is an easy case where you say the cell phone companies are not allowed to charge for these messages and that they by default go to all numbers although I could see allowing an opt-out list (i.e. we have cell phones on most of our vehicles to let them report location, speed etc to us, and the cell phones are in enclosure where the driver can't get to them, so the message notification could get annoying
    • by Amouth (879122) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:47PM (#34259088)

      More than likely they aren't going to bother trying to send it to a number.. but rather have the towers in the effected area send out the broadcast message to all associated radios

      the ability to do this exists already - your phone would get it and accept it because text blocking is done at the exchange level not the phone (it could be done at the phone but 99.999% of the time it isn't)

      i'm sure wouldn't be billed because if they send it at a tower level and not exchange level their normal billing message counting system would not be in place and would have to be changed to support it - which i doubt would happen as this would be just yet another government mandated thing.

      while i like the idea - and i completely understand and agree with the need for something like this..

      i'm more concerned with it's use as security theater abuse (have it only send to radios in air ports? can we have some fun with that?)

      Also.. all the dumb asses on the road yapping on their phone - texting their friends - doing everything but driving..

      now just imagine.. your going down the road and EVERYONE - EVERYONE gets a message at the same time - and they all check their phones at the same time.. this could cause some serious accidents.

      • by EdIII (1114411)

        now just imagine.. your going down the road and EVERYONE - EVERYONE gets a message at the same time - and they all check their phones at the same time.. this could cause some serious accidents.

        Are you kidding?

        If it was just a message everybody getting it at the same time could be dangerous in your scenario. Now imagine something like, "Farmville will start charging tomorrow". Bloody wreckage everywhere.

    • If I get a text about a giant tornado headed my way, do you honestly think I care if they charge me 20 cents for the "head's up"?

      • What if that tornado tiggers 5 + texts do you want pay $1 or more per storm? and lots more if are roaming text roaming can be $0.50+ per text.

        • by Cylix (55374) *

          Actually, in an area with multiple counties you would see an alert for each county. The alerts can vary depending on if they are a watch or warning. Typically, a storm alert with heavy rains will also insight alerts for different types of alerts (such as hail, flooding, ice, etc). Now, toss in the required weekly alerts and this could generate a fairly large number of messages.

          All in all, if you are a re-distribution point which covers multiple counties there can be upwards of 30 to 40 entries for a small

      • by mcmonkey (96054)

        Yes, if you are in tornado alley, this might be useful.

        I am not. So my ratio of actual emergencies to annoying tests is somewhere around 1:1000.

        I don't care if it's 'only' 20 cents. I don't care if it's free. I don't care if THEY pay ME 20 cents for every message.

        This is an idea so horribly annoying, I'm surprised it hasn't been done sooner.

        Oh, and in the 12 years I've been living the Massachusetts, the 2 times there was an actual emergency broadcast that was not a test, both were complete duds. Of the

        • This is an idea so horribly annoying, I'm surprised it hasn't been done sooner.

          Yeah! Another Bad Attitude! FWIW, I agree with your entire rant.

          The rest of you get off our lawn.

      • by Obfuscant (592200)
        If I get a text about a giant tornado headed my way,...

        Good thing it's a text and not a voice message. It'd be really hard to hear the voice message over the very loud roar of the approaching tornado. Of course, I wouldn't hear the phone beep for the incoming text over the very loud roar of the approaching tornado, either. I guess I better keep the phone in my hand looking at the status page for incoming texts so I don't miss any text message telling me there's a really loud tornado approaching because th

  • You mean... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by God'sDuck (837829) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:28PM (#34258706)

    Reverse 911 is fantastic. Just ask our neighboring town to the south that didn't use it when their water supply was contaminated. Yeah. My coworkers spent two days in the bathroom instead of 10 seconds reading a text.

    • Re:You mean... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by hellkyng (1920978) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:42PM (#34258988)
      Got to see it successfully used when my neighborhood had to be evacuated for a forest fire. They kept us up to date on about 15 - 30 minute intervals with evacuation news. It would have been amazing to have it available from the cell phone at the time. I remember running around everywhere preparing to get out of the house, it was irritating to have to drop what you were doing to find the traditional phone. Sounds like good stuff.
    • That is one shitty anecdote.
    • by DNS-and-BIND (461968) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @04:48PM (#34261160) Homepage
      What the FUCK? You actually DRINK tapwater? You got what you deserved. Tapwater is only for showering and perhaps dish washing (if you're cheap). In the real world, we drink only bottled water, and possibly San Pellengrino if we're at a coffee shop. Grow up already. Those who sacrifice convenience for security deserve neither.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dynedain (141758)

      Tell that to our receptionists that had to go around and erase a voicemail in all our unused phone extensions (that have direct dial numbers) when the sheriff's department sent out a missing person call. Why this one person warranted reverse 911 in a major metropolitan area, I'll never know.

      I don't have a problem with reverse-911 in general, just the particular details as to when it's implemented. In California our expensive traffic indicator freeway signs were re-appropriated for abducted child "Amber Aler

  • Alcatel-Lucent will use the GPS chip in smart phones and estimate the speed at which these phones are traveling and also the text typing patterns and pauses and correlate it with the zigs and zags of the GPS trace. Once it determines it is the case of texting-while-driving it will automatically call 9-1-1 and have an ambul^H^H^H^H^H mortuary van following the car to scrape the remains of the driver off the road.
    • by cayenne8 (626475)
      "Alcatel-Lucent will use the GPS chip in smart phones and estimate the speed at which these phones are traveling and also the text typing patterns and pauses and correlate it with the zigs and zags of the GPS trace. Once it determines it is the case of texting-while-driving it will automatically call 9-1-1 and have an ambul^H^H^H^H^H mortuary van following the car to scrape the remains of the driver off the road."

      Err....but what if it is one of the passangers that is doing the texting while in the car?

      No

      • by cayenne8 (626475)
        "passangers "

        Passengers I mean...geez, I gotta start using the preview.

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      Not with GPS's accuracy, they won't.

      • by eleuthero (812560)
        Except that the only reason GPS is inaccurate is because of client-side limits (that can easily be overcome--even legally--look at the iphone cell tower/GPS combo).
  • by goobenet (756437) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:30PM (#34258756)
    You guys do realize that EBS (Emergency Broadcast System) was replaced by EAS in 1997, and is now being replaced by CAP (Common Alerting Protocol)... Guess nobody does pay attention to them when they blast em out of the radio or TV... The reason it *CAN* soon go to mobile devices is because CAP is an IP based distribution system instead of an "over the air" distribution system.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by will3477 (705414)
      It might help if they didn't still use Emergency Broadcast System during the required weekly tests. If that's the name they use, I don't think its that outrageous to still call it that.
      • by surgen (1145449)

        They actually use the EAS system for weekly tests, what they call it is a different matter. Not that its a big deal though, even after spending a year as a radio station engineer I still use "emergency broadcast" and "emergency alert" interchangeably.

      • by Dunega (901960)
        Well all of the alerts around here (Southern New England) have been adjusted to say "Emergency Alert System". So it's been done at least in one area.
    • by s122604 (1018036)
      Is that why the new alert sound is reminiscent of an analog modem?

      I've wondered about that, but not enough to actually look into it
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by arivanov (12034)

      Cell broadcast and its use for emergencies has been part of the GSM spec since its inception. WTF is here to implement at all? All you need is to "have a word with the BSC" which inserts this into a paging message going to specific BTSes for specific cells.

      AFAIK, You cannot ship kit that does not have this. At least in EU.

  • ...because unlike the mobile phone network we require a huge infrastructure, high maintenance costs and the careful coordination of government and industry.

    oh, wait...

  • The Emergency Broadcast System that interrupts TV programming in times of crisis... It will be similar to the TV alerts in that the text messages will be geographically targeted for areas where a tornado alert or major road closure, for example, is in effect."

    I hope they peg down the geography a lot better. I'm sick of getting severe weather warnings from TV stations half a continent away.
    • by surgen (1145449)

      Thats probably caused by the TV station you watch. The EAS messages are region-encoded, by the county IIRC, and I've never seen a national weather service message with bad region info. Its probably the TV station with a misconfiguration decoder.

      Or are you just watching TV stations located far away?

  • by Jamori (725303) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:33PM (#34258802)
    ...random texts once a week waking me up at 3am indicating that:

    "This is a test of the local emergency cell phone text system. This is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency, hopefully you haven't disabled text alerts in the middle of the night after receiving all our obnoxious tests."

    • by jaymz666 (34050)

      Once a week would be nice. Comcast does it once a day around here

    • by elrous0 (869638) *

      Not only that, but they're kind enough to nearly blow my TV speakers up by blaring the warning signal about 100x louder than the channel audio. And they do it at 2 a.m., so they can be sure to wake the baby too.

    • by mcmonkey (96054)

      ...random texts once a week waking me up at 3am indicating that:

      "This is a test of the local emergency cell phone text system. This is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency, hopefully you haven't disabled text alerts in the middle of the night after receiving all our obnoxious tests."

      Why is this 'Funny'? Obviously the mods don't watch television.

      For most of the country, the number of tests will far outweigh the number of actual useful notices.

      This is more an annoyance generator than emergency broadcast system.

      If this is done, it absolutely should be opt-in only.

  • by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:34PM (#34258830) Journal

    It sounds like this would be rendered largely moot by DOT plans to disable cell phones in cars [yahoo.com].

    • by fructose (948996)
      That's just while driving, at which time it would be covered by the radio. Now they can alert you to a tornado, or tsunami, or other horrible event while you are shopping, or at the beach, or anywhere else where you don't have a radio/TV. Sounds like a great idea to me.
      • So will they also make it mandatory to listen to radio while driving?
    • by eleuthero (812560)
      I don't see his idea working for a number of reasons.

      1. There are perfectly good bluetooth connection kits coming even as standard packages on new cars today.

      2. Many phones are used now as GPS map systems with voiced directions (mapquest for free on the iphone, garmin, etc. for money). These make you a safer driver than someone trying to read a map while driving (albeit not safer than someone who knows where he's going).

      3. Streamed radio via phone (napster, pandora, etc.). This is possibly the weakest ar

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        Good points. Add to this the ability to make emergency phone calls. In my state at least, all handheld calls are banned except 911 calls. And of course you can still make handsfree calls, which would also be eliminated by this proposal.

        But what you have presented are arguments for why the legislation should not be passed. They're not reasons it would not be passed. Except #5, perhaps, but congressmen would no more be required to follow the law than they are to participate in Obamacare or any other l

  • Bleh (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by falldeaf (968657)
    I'm hoping a channel for voice and text will go away, just give me a fast data connection and I'll pick my own services to use. In which case a better system for emergencies would be to disseminate EB messages over a couple different popular channels (facebook, skype, IM) and let people choose their own way to be contacted.
  • I'm curious as to how they plan to implement it, especially because some people do a lot of moving across the country. Will it be able to warn people who are vacationing (or on business trips, etc) of emergency alerts where they are, as opposed to back at home? The article mentions "geographical targeting," but gives no indication of whether this will be done with real-time information as opposed to phone registration data.
    • by Bigbutt (65939)

      Same way they know where you are when you make a 911 call. They're not going to send you to your Pennsylvania PSAP if you're in Washington. They determine where you are based on your cell phone location and send you to the closest PSAP.

      [John]

  • CBSMS? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fizzl (209397) <fizzl@[ ]zl.net ['fiz' in gap]> on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:39PM (#34258938) Homepage Journal

    Umm, what? There's already cell broadcast messages already defined in the original GSM spec!
    No need to reinvent the wheel!

    These were planned to be used from emergency systems to location specific advertising. Anyone have any idea why it was never used for anything?

    • by Kalriath (849904)

      In NZ, they're used to tell you what cell tower you're connected to. Unless you're on 3G like, oh, everyone.

  • I like the idea (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheDarkMaster (1292526) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:42PM (#34258996)
    I work indirectly for the Civil Defense in my state (disaster control). And I can say that the ability to be able to warn all people in a given area that they must seek shelter or where to seek help after a disaster are priceless.
  • pool (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mevets (322601) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:44PM (#34259028)

    How long before the access control to this is subverted and nationwide penis enhancement texts start arriving?

    I'll take 3 weeks after deployment.

  • Already get these (Score:4, Interesting)

    by brusk (135896) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:47PM (#34259106)
    After the VA Tech shootings, a lot of college campuses implemented an emergency alert system that includes text messages to students and employees. My campus is one of them. The system is not geographically-aware but rather subscription-based, and so far all I've received are test messages (they announce the tests by email a few days in advance), sometimes synchronized with on-campus sirens. But it seems to work.
    • RIT implemented that, it will call you, e-mail you and text you continuously. There was a false warning about someone on campus not too long ago. My phone was going crazy in the middle of the night. They claim that students can unsubscribe from it, but the truth is that only faculty can, the only choice student's get is to shut off their phone or give fake info to the school. I don't live on campus, and I haven't for years. It's basically the same form that all of their policies take.
  • by Saishuuheiki (1657565) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:54PM (#34259224)

    One of the common reasons that is given for having no earthquake alert system is that we can only predict an earth quake a matter of seconds in advance.

    The idea of sending a text message to peoples cell phones, if done with some automated system, could potentially be used for this.

    Though the question is how bogged down the cell networks would get, or if they'd have some sort of universal-packet where the cell-towers simply broadcast it to all phones, rather than targeting each phone individually.

    • I get earthquake alerts on my phone from some android app... ...and I don't even live somewhere that has earthquakes.

  • Old (Score:3, Informative)

    by tsa (15680) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @02:55PM (#34259244) Homepage

    Oh how modern. We've had that here in Europe for years.

  • This is of course information that the cell companies have for any call (it is how they triangulate where a distress call comes from), and it would make the most sense for something like that. If they instead decided it by area code (or even area code + exchange prefix), it would be really quite useless since people tend to be mobile with their cell phones and likely wouldn't be interested in a disaster that is thousands of miles away at that moment.
    • by trapnest (1608791)
      Your phone wouldn't matter at all It's simply a message sent to "all connected devices" from that cell. Think net send * OMG RUN
  • They should change the background color on your phone to the new threat level. e.g. when the level changes from yellow to orange, your phone background becomes orange, immediately letting you know to take the appropriate action such as heading to Home Depot to stockpile duct tape and plastic sheeting. For extra credit the phone could provide you with directions to the nearest hardware store.

    This scheme may conflict with *Amber* Alerts, however.

  • ETWS (Score:3, Informative)

    by demiurg (108464) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @03:00PM (#34259338) Homepage Journal

    This system is called ETWS (Earthquake Tsunami Warning System in Release-8 networks, i.e. LTE and PWS in Release-9. It is being pushed mainly by Japanese cellular operators (NTT DoCoMo, etc) and is probably used already in Japan.

  • About a month or two ago (maybe longer,i lose track) a company called "Nixie" put in service (with the city and county of Honolulu) a text and/or email alert service.

    Story from local paper: http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/global/story.asp?s=12921149 [hawaiinewsnow.com]

  • by goffster (1104287) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @03:10PM (#34259508)

    OMG! A toradno iz comin. proced 2 teh nearest evacushun sheltr

  • I heard about this idea back in *1989* from a guy that was trying to get tornado warnings onto cell phones. The cell sites in the effected area are usually pretty well known, and if those sites are linked to phones, the phones gets a message. Easy, obvious, incredibly useful, SAVES LIVES!

    And here we are still talking about implementing it 20+ years later!

  • by mtxmorph (669251) on Wednesday November 17, 2010 @03:22PM (#34259688) Homepage
    I'm actually working on the handset side of this, so I can answer some of the questions people have about it.

    It's really not that complicated of a system. It uses Cell Broadcast Services (CBS) which are part of the existing 3GPP and 3GPP2 standards. Some of you may have seen CBS applications in your phones, but they're typically not used in the U.S. CBS is, as its name implies, a broadcast service.. so obviously it's one-way only. If your phone isn't "subscribed" to the particular message identifier (a kind of topic or category), or your phone isn't on when the message is broadcast, you'll miss it. The system has different classifications for messages, from nationwide alerts, to local alerts (like hurricanes), to AMBER alerts. There can't really be any way for operators to charge for broadcast messages, any more than they can charge for other broadcast resources like paging channels, so I think the only way your bill would be affected would be if they do some blanket 10 cent "government" fee for everyone... By the way, the reason they are using CBS is because it does not place a strain on the network, like sending millions of SMS messages at once would (that's important in a disaster situation when people might be overloading the network).

    The special handling on the handset side is to take some specific actions when an emergency message is received.. it has to play a special tone and vibration, among other things. You can opt-out of pretty much all messages, so don't get too worried about being woken up in the middle of the night for AMBER alerts (well, unless you want to receive them). The system supports a monthly test message, but you wouldn't be opted-in to those by default.

    The nature of the cell network allows operators to broadcast the messages to specific cells, so you are not going to get alerts for things happening elsewhere in the country. But the design also allows for national (presidential-level) distribution, so yes, in those cases, everybody would get the alert. The network-side of things is more interesting than the handset side, because of how different levels of the government need to be able to send alerts, and this is mostly what the article talks about (although it's short on details).

    If you have other questions, reply and I can try to answer them.
  • I can imagine this being useful for tornado warnings, but please not for closed roads.

    Also there are messages that will show up on your screen and not as just 'incoming message'. At least I was able to send/receive those several years ago when using my PC and the Nokia software.

  • Do I get to register preferences about what messages I will want to receive, or will some wanker with authority decide that for me? The last thing I want is for the person who decides which messages are important being of the same mindset as the nimrod who thought passengers at an airport need to be reminded every 5 minutes exactly what the list of banned items on airplanes are - again and again and again and again while you wait for your flight. (What's really dumb about that recorded TSA message is that

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