Government launches new alert system

Local | Erin Chan 27 Nov 2020

A new emergency alert system has been launched by the government to disseminate important real-time messages to mobile phone users during emergency situations.

Despite the prominence of similar systems in countries such as the United States, Japan and South Korea, Hong Kong still relies on radio, television and social media to disseminate critical messages to the public.

The new system employs cell broadcast service technology, which could release messages to mobile devices simultaneously and within seconds.

When receiving messages from the system, mobile devices will generate an audio alarm and vibrate for about 10 seconds to alert users in addition to a pop-up notification.

A message is classified as either "Extreme Emergency Alert" or "Emergency Alert," depending on the severity of the incident.

"During emergency situations, such as extreme weather that causes extensive infrastructure damage, major public safety incidents or large-scale public health emergency situations, government departments may disseminate messages using the system to remind members of the public to take contingency measures immediately," the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said.

Users will be able to opt out of messages at the "Emergency Alert" level, but not messages at the "Extreme Emergency Alert" level.

The bureau said that messages could not be received under certain conditions, such as when users are outside Hong Kong or when their mobile phones are not connected to mobile networks.

The bureau has ensured that no personal data will be involved and users will not be charged any additional fees for receiving messages.

In the United States, a similar system known as Wireless Emergency Alerts has been put in place since 2012 to disseminate four types of real-time messages to mobile devices.

They include those issued by the president, threats to safety, missing children or recommendations for saving lives and property.

When receiving messages from the system, mobile devices come with a unique attention signal and vibrate.

The US government can use the system to send out messages to specific geographic areas instead of the whole country.

Similarly, American mobile users can partially opt out of messages, except those issued by the president.

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