Along with technological advancements in public warning systems, new legislation and regulations are being implemented around the world. After the release of the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) on the 11th of December 2018, European Member states were given two options:
1. To implement a public warning system that uses phone based technology for imminent or developing major emergencies or disasters.
2. To find an alternative electronic communication service that is as effective and easy for the public to receive warnings as the first choice.
The deadline for European Member states to implement these new systems is June 2022. Along with the new public warning system regulations, guidelines were promised on how to ensure that alternative electronic communication services complied with the regulations. These guidelines were provided by BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) on the 21st of June 2020. BEREC is the telecommunications market regulator for the European Union.
These extensive guidelines help ensure there is no confusion when implementing new public warning systems so that European Union citizens and visitors are alerted in times of crisis.
The BEREC guidelines do not provide authorities exact instructions on how to implement an alternative electronic communication service that works as effectively as a phone based system. Instead, the guidelines pose a methodology to assess whether the alternative system is as good at reaching its target population as a phone based system. Authorities can use these guidelines while considering how these systems would work in their respective countries.
In addition to the guidelines, the BEREC document provides an interpretation of the scope of Article 110 of the EECC. Part 1 of Article 110 clearly states that European Union member states must implement a system that can send emergency alerts to citizens and visitors, within targeted geographical locations affected by emergencies or dangerous situations.
The second part of Article 110 offers authorities the option to use an alternative mobile application or other electronic communication systems which may not currently exist. While mobile applications and alternative systems are allowed, there are currently no existing mobile applications that work as effectively as SMS based or Cell broadcasting based alerts. These phone based systems do not require users to opt-in or download an application to receive emergency alerts. Even the most successful mobile applications cannot guarantee that all mobile phone users will download them.
The BERAC methodology outlines a three step process to assess whether an alternative system fulfills Article 110. The first step is defining coverage and factors that impact an alternative system’s coverage compared to SMS and Cell Broadcast. These factors include supported devices, accessibility for users with disabilities, reliability, geofencing capabilities, ability to warn mobile phone users entering a crisis-affected area, and other criteria.
The next step is assessing the alternative system against benchmarks and performance levels. Factors to be assessed include coverage area size, capacity to reach end users, and ease of use in receiving alerts. Alternative systems should not require end user login or registration as this will severely limit the number of people signing up for and receiving critical communications.
The final step is comparing the data from the previous steps. The alternative system must be equal to or better than SMS or Cell Broadcast in geographic targeting, scalability, and inclusion of citizens, visitors and tourists. If any one of these performance benchmarks is inferior, it will not fulfill Article 110 requirements unless it is proven to be equivalent or more effective in its overall coverage and capacity.
If the alternative system underperforms in one area, there is a possibility that exceeding the benchmarks in other areas will raise its overall performance assessment to an acceptable level. However, the underperforming area must still be sufficiently effective for the whole system to be accepted. For example, even if overall coverage exceeds the desired level by a wide margin, if the alternative system is incapable of reaching visitors and tourists, it will not fulfill Article 110.
Using the BEREC guidelines, all EU member states can easily replicate their own tests and assess new mobile applications and alternative electronic communication systems against SMS and Cell Broadcast based phone systems.
The European Union is raising the bar of personal safety for all EU citizens and visitors under Article 110 of the EECC. By implementing public warning systems throughout the EU, at-risk populations will receive the alerts and information they need to stay safe during public safety threats, disasters, and other crisis situations.
For more information on how to effectively implement a public warning system, see the previous article which summarizes our webinar presented by two experts in the field, Michael Hallowes and Benoit Vivier.