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Assessing the effectiveness of Public Warning systems

 

BEREC, the Bureau of European Regulators in Electronic Communications, has published guidelines on “how to assess the effectiveness of public warning systems transmitted by different means”.

 

What is this document about?

The European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) makes it mandatory for Member States to deploy by December 2022 technologies that allow sending Public Warning alerts by telephone to everyone present in an affected area (article 110(1)). In practice, two technologies allow this: Cell Broadcast and Location-Based SMS. However, Member States also have the possibility to deploy apps as an alternative (article 110(2)) if the following 5 conditions are met: 1. The app should be as effective as cell broadcast or location-based SMS “in terms of coverage and capacity to reach end-users”; 2. The reception of the alert should be easy (users should not be required to log in or register); 3. The transmission of the alert should be free to the user; 4. Roaming users should be informed when entering the country on how to receive the alerts (for instance in a ‘welcome SMS’); 5. It should be privacy-friendly. In order to assess the first condition (whether the app is as effective as other technologies), BEREC which could be considered as a kind of EU agency for telecommunications was tasked with drafting guidelines by June 2020 on how assess the effectiveness of Public Warning System.

The guidelines are available here.

 

What’s in this document?

The document first reviews the different technologies that exist and then sets a list of criteria to assess the effectiveness of each technology. These criteria, together with the methodology suggested should be carefully looked at by the Member States if they considerer using an app as an alternative and need to justify that this solution will be as effective as other technologies.

 

What this document is not about?

The purpose of this document is not to help the Member States chose one technology over the others. It is hence not the purpose of the document to draw the pros and cons of each technology (though this is briefly described). This document’s aim is only to define methodology and criteria that will help Member States. But even assessing the number of downloads of an app is left to the discretion of Member States, as mentioned in section 5.4 of the document: “It is not possible for BEREC to include a baseline performance analysis, which is up to the competent authorities when assessing the envisaged [alternative]”.

 

EENA’s reaction to the document

Overall, the document is of good quality and shows that a lot of work has been done to produce these guidelines on time. This document can be a great help for public authorities implementing article 110 of the EECC but this should not be the only source of information. While this is not described in the document, EENA considers that an app will very hardly reach the same capacity as location-based SMS or cell broadcast in terms of number of people covered.

Finally, EENA would like to remind that while the implementation of the EECC is about technologies, implementation of such systems require solid and well-defined strategies on how these public warning systems will be used.

 

Other documents

 

Need more help?

EENA remains at the disposal of public authorities who require assistance with implementing the EECC in bridging with vendors, facilitating meetings and sharing best practices in other countries.

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President Macron: “113 is the best new fourteenth emergency number”

Cet article est disponible en français ici.

19 December 2019 – by Jean Quatorzemer, correspondent of L’Aberration in Brussels

This morning, we welcomed President Emmanuel Macron from France. He shared with us his vision of administrative simplification, public safety and Europe.

Mr. President, this morning the creation of a fourteenth emergency number was proposed – 113…

It’s true. Two years ago, I called for the implementation of a single emergency number 112 for all emergencies, but I then realized that we – the French – are very special, and we deserve more than other countries. As you know, 13 is a sign of bad luck in our country, so we decided to add one more.

Of course, we also believe it is a fantastic idea to add more emergency numbers, but why did you create only one more?

Simply because there are no more numbers available to add!

Well done, really, Mr. President! How did you come to the conclusion of creating this new number for medical emergencies and non-emergencies? How does it make sense?

It’s very simple: we looked at what is done in all the other countries and we realized that the trend is to implement a number for all emergencies – medical, fire, police, etc. – and an additional number for medical non-emergencies. We decided to do the opposite, because once again, we are special and Asterix will keep on fighting the invaders.

Recently, we noticed that you were getting closer to President Putin of Russia. Has President Putin influenced your decision?

I must admit that yes. Getting closer to Russia means getting some distance from the overly simplistic American model with a single number – 911 – for all emergencies. Complicated is the new simple!

But Russia itself is moving towards a single 112 number…

What? (silence – calls political adviser)

You are known as a pro-European progressive, how does this new number fit with your ideology?

It is totally pro-European. All the EU should abandon 112 and move to 113 – it sounds better, works better, and it’s French. I will make sure to add it to the agenda of the next EU Summit in Brussels.

In terms of progress, it is obvious: 14 emergency numbers are more than 13 emergency numbers, and this is where progress and growth lie.

* This is a satire article, but the creation of 113 for medical emergencies and non-emergencies was truly proposed this morning.

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Président Macron : « Le 113 est le meilleur nouveau 14e numéro d’urgence »

This article is available in English here.

19 décembre 2019 – par Jean Quatorzemer, correspondant de L’Aberration à Bruxelles

Ce matin, nous avons accueilli le Président français, monsieur Emmanuel Macron. Il a partagé avec nous sa vision de la simplification administrative, de la réforme des services de secours et de l’Europe.

M. le Président, ce matin la création d’un 14e numéro d’urgence, le 113, était proposé…

C’est exact. Il y a deux ans, j’avais appelé à la mise en place d’un numéro d’appel d’urgence unique pour toutes les situations d’urgence, le 112. Mais finalement j’ai réalisé que nous – les français – sommes très spéciaux : nous avons besoin de plus de numéros d’urgence que les autres pays ! En outre, comme vous le savez, 13 est signe de malheur, nous devions donc absolument ajouter un autre numéro.

Bien sûr ! Nous pensons aussi que c’est une idée fantastique d’ajouter régulièrement des numéros d’urgence, mais pourquoi en créer un seul autre ?

C’est très simple : il n’y a malheureusement plus de numéros disponibles !

Bravo M. le Président, vraiment ! Comment avez-vous trouvé cette idée de créer un nouveau numéro dédié à l’aide médicale urgence et aux problèmes de santé non-urgents ? Quelle est la logique derrière cette proposition ?

Ce fut relativement facile :  nous avons observé les autres pays et nous avons réalisé que la tendance est à la mise en place d’un numéro d’appel unique pour toutes les situations d’urgence, quelles qu’elles soient, et d’un numéro pour les problèmes de santé non-urgents. Nous avons décidé de faire le contraire car, à nouveau, nous sommes spéciaux et Astérix s’efforcera toujours de combattre les envahisseurs.

Récemment nous avons remarqué que vous vous rapprochiez du Président russe, M. Poutine. A-t-il eu une quelconque influence sur votre choix ?

Je dois avouer que oui. Se rapprocher de la Russie signifie prendre de la distance par rapport à l’approche très simpliste des Etats-Unis avec leur numéro unique pour toutes les urgences, le 911. La complexité est la nouvelle simplicité !

En l’occurrence, la Russie est actuellement en train de finaliser la mise en place d’un numéro d’urgence unique, le 112…

Pardon ? (Silence embarrassé – il appelle son conseiller politique)

Vous êtes connu pour être un progressiste pro-européen, comment cette réforme s’insère-t-elle dans votre idéologie ?

C’est totalement pro-européen. Toute l’UE devrait abandonner le 112 unique et aller vers le 113 : ça sonne mieux, ça fonctionne mieux, et c’est français ! D’ailleurs je vais m’assurer d’ajouter ce sujet à l’agenda du prochain sommet européen à Bruxelles. En termes de progrès, c’est tout à fait logique : 14 numéros d’urgence, c’est plus que 13 numéros d’urgence. C’est sur ceci que le progrès et la croissance reposent, croyez-moi !

* Ceci est un article satirique, néanmoins la création d’un nouveau numéro d’urgence, le 113, pour répondre au besoin d’aide médicale urgente et aux problèmes de santé non-urgents a bien été proposée ce matin.

Un peu de lecture additionnelle :

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Emergency services call for stronger cooperation with tech companies 

As tech companies are introducing safety features in their products, these well-intended advances are often developed without fully grasping the reality of emergency services.

Many wearables, connected devices and more, now count with special built-in features that can detect emergencies and also communicate with emergency services. But these same emergency services are often not involved in the development of these features, which can result in flawed communications. Data sometimes cannot be processed at emergency response centres, together with an increase of emergency alerts due to false alarms.

This lack of adequate communications is a consequence not anticipated by tech companies, which can hinder the work of emergency services. Without companies being aware of it, there is a possibility that users in danger can be expecting help that will not arrive because the information has not been processed by emergency services.

We believe in innovation and welcome all advances aiming at improving citizens’ safety. That is why we, together with signatories from all over the world, are now calling for tech companies to contact EENA to take part in this dialogue.

Find more in our position paper.

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Court of Justice of the EU rules that SIM-less calls to 112 should be located

The Court of Justice of the EU has released this morning an important judgement on interpretation of EU legislation regarding calls to 112.

In its judgement, the Court estimated that calls made from phones without SIM-cards to 112 also fall under the scope of the requirements set out in article 26 of the Universal Service Directive. This legislation requires “all calls to the single European emergency call number “112”” to be located. This means that when Member States of the European Union allow emergency calls to be placed from SIM-less phones, location information must also be provided to the emergency services. Failing that, they will be deemed as not compliant with the currently applicable European legislation (Universal Service Directive).

Currently, emergency calls from SIM-less phones can be placed in 20 EU countries, and this judgement does not impose the remaining Member States to do so.

The publication of this judgment comes after an incident that took place in 2013 in Lithuania, when a young girl called emergency services ten times after being abducted. Neither her location, nor her phone number could be determined, and the girl eventually died.

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EENA’s statement regarding 112 developments in Romania

On Thursday 25th July, in the Romanian city of Caracal, a 15-year-old girl called the 112 emergency number 3 times. She reported that she had been abducted and asked for urgent help. That help did not arrive until 19 hours later, at which time she was presumed dead. The suspect later told police that he killed the girl, as well as another teenager.

EENA is devastated by this tragic news and by the heart-breaking transcripts that were recently released of the emergency calls. We are shocked and deeply saddened that help did not reach the person that needed it most. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims.

This tragedy brings into question the functioning of 112 in Romania, including how emergency calls are located. For many years, EENA tried to urge public authorities in Romania to deploy Advanced Mobile Location (AML), but no concrete action has been taken to implement this life-saving technology. Similarly, several journalists were also contacted and made aware of the benefits of AML, as well as the lack of action in the country. No interest to investigate was shown.

While the devastating story in Caracal has sparked debate about how emergency calls are handled in Romania, EENA would like to give a reminder of the work of the authorities over the last years to make sure that Romanians benefit from a modern 112 system: all the emergency control rooms are interconnected, people with disabilities can contact emergency services and a public warning system has recently been introduced. Unlike several other Member States, Romania is fully compliant with EU legislation on emergency communications.

We should learn from this tragedy and push for continued efforts to modernise the 112 system in Romania. This must not happen again. Although we cannot be sure that AML could have been used in this particular case, as it is dependent on the type of phone used, we must move to deploy this technology. EENA welcomes the actions taken by the authorities in the last days to ensure the implementation of this technology. Reforms must be led by the most competent people and EENA would like to express concern over the high turnover of staff following the Caracal story, which could potentially lead to stagnation and a lack of progress of the necessary reforms.

To keep the citizens of Romania safe, all steps should be taken to move these reforms forward as soon as possible. This means that all actors of society need to make public safety a priority, not only when tragedies happen but on a permanent basis. This needs to involve public authorities, the counter-power of the media and constructive support from all the political spectrum.

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The Reality of Accessible Emergency Services

Living with a disability in Europe

In February this year, France announced the launch of Total Conversation on the 114 emergency number. This platform – available online and as an app in both spoken and sign language – allows people with disabilities to communicate with emergency services using video and text. The launch represents a huge step forward for accessibility, particularly for the over 80,000 profoundly deaf French citizens.[1] But it also highlights just how difficult it has been – and still is in many countries in Europe – for people with disabilities to access help in times of emergency. What does the future hold for accessible emergency services in Europe?

There are 80 million people with disabilities in Europe[2] and many cannot easily alert emergency services when in danger, as the principle way of communicating with emergency services is via voice call. And although some countries now offer other methods to contact help in an emergency, such as SMS, accessibility remains far from equal across Europe. Head over to some European countries, you’ll find video calls, SMS and real-time text at people’s disposal. Meanwhile in Greece, the only option for citizens with hearing impairments to request urgent help is via fax. In times of emergency, limited communication options are leaving people with disabilities particularly vulnerable. At EENA, we believe that this needs to change.

Each year, EENA publishes a report on emergency services. Find out what services your EU country provides to people with disabilities here.

EU legislation in a nutshell

How is the European Union (EU) addressing the disparity? We’ve seen several legislative steps over the last years in the direction of equal access to emergency services, but more still needs to be done. Previous legislation like the Universal Service Directive has been somewhat vague when it comes to the responsibilities of Member States. The recent European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) goes some way to clarify this: access to end-users with disabilities must be available through emergency communications. That is to say: communications that do not include only voice, but also SMS, video, messaging and others.

Add to this the new Accessibility Act, which will enter into force in the coming weeks. The Act has further defined the obligations of those involved in emergency communications with two key points. Firstly, telecommunications providers must ensure that emergency communications services are accessible. Concretely, this means providing text and Total Conversation services in addition to voice calls. Secondly, and importantly, Member States will all need to ensure that people with disabilities visiting their country from abroad can access emergency services on an equivalent basis to other users. Many solutions currently provided by Member States involve pre-registration, for example, which makes it extremely difficult for visitors to make use of them.

The way forward

The EECC and the Accessibility Act represent steps forward for accessibility, but Member States still need to implement the solutions. As we’ve seen, there are already some ad-hoc solutions in various countries. Although these represent significant progress, we must also consider their limitations. What options are available to countries committing to accessible emergency response?

In many European countries, such as Belgium, Italy and Ireland, emergency SMS services are set up specifically for people with disabilities. For those unable or finding it difficult to communicate by voice, the SMS service can be lifesaving in times of emergency, but it has its shortcomings. In many cases, people wishing to use the service must pre-register or request the relevant numbers from the authorities. Similarly, specialised apps for each country (or region), such as those launched in Malta, Spain and Portugal, also often require pre-registration and, of course, to be downloaded. People with disabilities therefore are not granted to same level of access as other end-users, who can simply call 112 at anytime, anywhere in Europe, without preparatory actions.

SMS also brings the challenge of locating the person in danger. 15 countries have already deployed Advanced Mobile Location, which locates an emergency caller using their mobile phone location services. This number is about to get a lot higher, as new EU legislation has made it mandatory for Member States to make use of mobile location during emergencies. But people who are unable to contact emergency services via voice call cannot benefit from this lifesaving technology. In countries where SMS services are used, some emergency organisations have even opted to ask callers to start with a voice call so that they can locate them.

The use of SMS services and specialised apps are a good start for countries in terms of improving accessibility, but we should not stop there. As we’ve already seen in France, options such as Total Conversation can transform the way people with disabilities request urgent help. Total Conversation means that people can communicate simultaneously using video, voice and text services in real time. Importantly, this service was developed and supported by the deaf and hard of hearing community, but it can also respond to the needs of a variety of disabilities, including speech and cognitive disabilities, allowing access on an equal basis to other citizens.

Paving the way for accessible services

Services like Total Conversation and its components, including text chat and video call, are internet-based communications. But as most emergency services are primarily reached by voice call, they simply not able to receive this type of data. In fact, the majority of EU countries are not even measuring the percentage of calls they receive from IP networks: accessible emergency services are not taken seriously.

This is where Next Generation 112 (NG112) steps in. Next Generation 112 is all about making use of Internet Protocol (IP) calls so that citizens in danger can benefit from all the technologies we use every day, whether it’s a messenger service or even connected objects. IP calls can carry much more varied data than traditional voice calls, including text, photos, video and other data.

Not only does NG112 mean that emergency services are ready to receive the necessary data for services such as Total Conversation, it also means that we can continue to innovate and develop accessible services based on new technologies. If emergency centres are technologically prepared, there are a multitude of possibilities for accessible emergency response. What if emergency services could instantly receive the health data of someone requesting urgent help? How about if visually impaired citizens could be warned of nearby emergencies through their home speakers? EENA has just launched a new project to test various use cases of NG112 in real life environments, building the practical foundations for Next Generation response in Europe and harnessing technology’s lifesaving potential.

Making accessible emergency services a reality

Deaf and hard of hearing citizens represent 9% of the EU’s population.[3] Other citizens, including those with speech and cognitive disabilities, may also find difficulties when alerting of an emergency, which makes the total population lacking equal access even higher. Although there have been steps forward to close this gap, there is still a lot left to be done. Accessible emergency services are within our grasp: the legislative framework and the technology are there. What we now need is the commitment to put it into practice and to advance towards equal accessibility for all citizens.

By Rose Michael, Knowledge Officer, EENA.

 

Tables for reference:

EU Countries: Accessibility to emergency services via SMS and other methods

EU Countries: Number of Calls from IP Networks

References:

[1] Place Gre’net

[2] European Disability Forum

[3] ISCRAM-med Poster Paper, Constantinou, Ioannou & Diaz

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2019 Year of Change for Public Warning

2019-How much of the technology that we use today is the same as back in World War Two? It’s a struggle to think of many, isn’t it? The way we travel, work and spend our free time have all changed dramatically. It might then surprise you that in many EU countries, people are still warned of emergencies in the same way as back in the 1940s.

But 2019 marks a year of change. December’s new legislation means that this year, public authorities will start taking public warning more seriously and here at the European Emergency Number Association, we’ll be following the progress all the way…

In emergencies, saving time is crucial. Public authorities are usually among the first to hear about a crisis, be it a terrorist attack or a natural disaster. If they can quickly communicate the danger to those in the same area, vulnerable people have time to reach safety. We live in a highly connected world, where your smartphone can control your heating and a talking robot can order your milk. Despite this, many EU countries are still relying on old-school sirens to warn people of threats.

This raises many questions (and concerns). How can a siren tell people the type of danger? How can a siren advise panicked people on how to stay safe? Will a siren reach everyone in danger? And is there really not a more modern way to warn people? At EENA, we’ve been asking these questions for many years and we’ve been insisting that this situation needs to change.

Thankfully, EU decision-makers also started to ask themselves these questions. The world of public safety transformed last month, when new EU legislation came into force that will change the way emergencies are handled. Thanks to the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC), authorities in all EU countries will have to jump into the modern day and use public warning technology better suited to 21st century life to alert their citizens.

What will this technology look like? Like most aspects of public safety, there is no one-size-fits-all. In our research, we found that the best solutions come from a blend of methods. And this year, we’ve already started to work closely with several EU Member States as part of our new project: Preparing the Implementation of Public Warning in Europe. We’ll continue sharing our expertise to find the most effective solutions for each country’s specific needs, as well as discussing available options at the EENA Conference this April. Nevertheless, in the EECC, EU decision-makers clearly highlighted one method as a crucial element in this multi-channel blend: Reverse 112.

When authorities become aware of an emergency, one of the most effective ways to alert people is to use telephone networks to send a message to their phones, using cell broadcast or SMS. That’s where the name ‘Reverse 112’ comes from. The message is targeted, only reaching those in the affected area, providing clear, timely instructions. At the end of 2017, 85% of the European population were subscribed to mobiles services. So, it makes perfect sense that within 2 years, all EU Member States will have to use telephone networks for public warning. If your phone can tell you whether it will rain, how far the nearest bus stop is and how many steps you’ve taken, surely it should also tell you if there is a danger nearby?

The EU’s landmark decision to make modern public warning mandatory marks a shift of focus from reactive to preventative attitudes when it comes to managing ongoing emergencies. If a city is destroyed by an earthquake, we would not re-build the city in the same way. Instead, we would analyse how the structures can be adapted to stop the buildings collapsing again. It’s the same logic with public warning. Some countries may already use public warning apps, but can we really expect everyone to download an app? Others may use social media, but how many will check these accounts regularly or what’s more, during a crisis? It’s clear (and has been clear for a long time) that these methods are not successful by themselves.

Chile serves as an excellent example. After the devastating earthquake in February 2010, authorities recognised the urgent need to strengthen the country’s public warning system. Originally created to help warn of tsunamis, the Emergency Alert System – Chile’s Reverse 112 – is now used for a wide range of other emergencies, including forest fires and volcanic activities. In a country where it is often difficult or impossible to predict risks, Reverse 112 is literally lifesaving.

From previous disasters, we must learn and adapt. The tragic Paris attacks in 2015: 130 people lost their lives. No modern public warning system. The Westminster Bridge attack in 2017: 6 people were killed. No modern public warning system. The Attica wildfires in 2018 in Greece: 100 people confirmed dead. No modern public warning system. Let 2019 be the year that we learn. The year when the right information is given to the right people, at the right time.

By Rose Michael, Knowledge Officer, EENA.

Public Warning document

European calls in the upcoming EU legislation (briefing on the EECC)

Public Warning in Chile case study

Warning Europeans of attacks: all talk, no action?

How many attacks until Europe acts on public warnings?

Public Warning

European calls in EU legislation

Public Warning in Chile