App notification too little: Scheuer calls for the introduction of warning SMS

Not enough app notification
Scheuer calls for the introduction of warning SMS

Federal Transport Minister Scheuer and other politicians are in favor of warning SMS in the event of a disaster. Warning apps are used by too few people. But before it can be rolled out across the board, a number of hurdles would have to be overcome.

After the flood disaster in Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia, Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer demanded that those affected be warned by SMS in the future. “I am in favor of sending these push messages to citizens via mobile phone providers. But that has always failed because the political will was lacking in some places,” said the CSU politician in the “Bild live” political talk.

Last week, people in the affected areas were warned of thunderstorms, in some cases via warning apps such as Nina or Katwarn. It is now being discussed how the population can be better warned of similar disasters in the future. There are currently no nationwide warning SMS in Germany, in other countries such as the USA they are common.

“We have the data, but we now have to have the legal possibilities and the tools so that our institutions can also get this information to the public,” said Scheuer. “This flood disaster must be a wake-up call to everyone that we are now not only conducting the data protection discussion, but the real protection discussion for citizens against disasters.”

Only ten percent of Germans use warning apps

The Rhineland-Palatinate green member of the European Parliament, Jutta Paulus, has called on the federal government to rapidly implement the EU guidelines on civil protection in the event of a disaster. “Katwarn and Nina are not enough,” said Paulus. These warning apps only reached ten percent of the population. Push services in the sense of the “EU Alert” directive of 2018 are necessary, with which all mobile network subscribers can be automatically reached with public warnings. Sirens could then also reach those who do not have a smartphone.

“I cannot be told that it was inevitable that we would have nearly 200 deaths in this disaster,” said Paul. “Push messages on smartphones are used very actively in other countries for public warnings.” In Germany it had been neglected to make the mobile phone providers the requirement to set up such “cell broadcast” systems.

“What we also need is better coordination and interlinking,” said the MEP. The timely and geographically very precise warning of the European flood warning system had arrived in the districts and municipalities, but its full scope was not perceived. “In the course of the climate crisis, such heavy rain and extreme weather events will certainly increase”, Paulus expects.

In the meantime, the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance has shown itself to be open to the demand and has the introduction of such a system examined, as the President of the authorities Armin Schuster told the newspapers of the editorial network in Germany. “My goal is to use a feasibility study to determine whether the introduction of ‘cell broadcasting’ is sensible and feasible.” A result can be expected in autumn.

Telephone numbers do not have to be known for warning SMS

Using cell broadcasting, text messages can be sent to all cell phones that are within a certain radio cell. In this way, the mobile phone users in a certain area can be reached without the location from which the messages are sent having to know their phone numbers.

“I don’t see any arguments that speak completely against it,” said Schuster about the possible introduction of such a system in Germany. “But there are a number of issues to be discussed. So far, no cell phone provider has offered the system. And it’s expensive.” The start-up investment alone would be estimated at 20 to 40 million euros.

“Data protection aspects should also be considered,” added Schuster. “Some citizens will ask themselves, for example: How do the authorities actually know where I am?” All of these questions could be resolved, but not overnight.