When the bodies of water rolled through the Eifel communities of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia on the night of July 14, most residents were taken by surprise – only a few were notified of the impending danger through warning apps. In order to reach as many people as possible in future disasters, the federal cabinet decided on Wednesday on the legal framework for the introduction of a “Cell Broadcast System” (CBS). In this way, alerts can be sent directly to all mobile devices in the reception area of a cell tower – without an app, internet or mobile phone numbers. The Telecommunications Act obliges all mobile network operators to introduce such a CBS in the future.
The current warning system, which is mainly based on apps such as “Nina” from the Federal Office of Civil Defense and Disaster Protection or “Katwarn” from the Fraunhofer Institute, has been criticized in the wake of the flooding. The apps are only used by a minority in Germany and also always require an active internet connection, explains the digital association Bitkom. On some smartphones, the notification must also be activated first. In addition, in the badly hit area of Ahrweiler, the warning was given too late and then only via Katwarn, but not via Nina.
Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, from whose department the initiative for the change came, said on the sidelines of the cabinet meeting: “The warning of the population should work on all channels. If you wake up at night, you should know right away. what happened and how you are. The introduction of cell broadcast will complement sirens, apps and radio.”
In many other countries, the system has been around for a long time
CBS must function more broadly and more simply than the previous system. As soon as a message arrives in the central “modular alert system”, it is sent to the cell towers in the affected area. They then continuously send a signal to all SIM cards in the receiving room during the warning. This sends texts of limited length, which look like push messages on smartphones and like SMS on older mobile phones. Alarm tones can also be activated even when mobile phones are muted.
The signal is more like a broadcast than an SMS signal as it doesn’t establish a traceable connection to individual SIM cards. So there are no data protection concerns. The system has been around for a long time in many EU countries, as well as in the US and Japan. The technical requirements have existed since 1999 and have been integrated into all mobile communication standards since 2G.
The fact that cell broadcast is only now being introduced in Germany is apparently for political reasons. One According to a media report Until now, the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs has put the brakes on because it did not want to burden the network operators with further requirements.
The faster it has to go now. The amendment to the law must pass through the Bundestag and the Bundesrat before the end of this term of office. According to ministry circles, the system could be operational in the fall of next year. The federal government bears the investment costs up to 40 million euros and the maintenance costs up to 3 million euros per year.