Posted on October 6, 2022
Over the past decade, France has experienced a series of events that have forced successive governments to rethink the warning system for populations in the event of climatic, terrorist or industrial risks.
The series of attacks between 2015 and 2016, the fire at the Seveso-classified Lubrizol factory in 2019, the unprecedented forest fires that affected France in 2022, or the arrival of the Paris Olympic Games in 2024 are all of events that led to the creation of a new alert platform: FR-Alerte.
As part of the Plan France Relance, a budget of 50 million euros has been granted for the deployment of FR-Alerte. Now operational since June 2022 throughout the national, metropolitan and overseas territories, this real-time risk alert and prevention system allows, as indicated on the government website, “ ofinform about the nature and location of a danger or threat and indicate the actions and behaviors to adopt to anyone with a cell phone.
A movement to modernize alert systems initiated by Europe in 2018, thanks to article 110 of the European Electronic Communications Code, and which obliges member countries to set up at least one of the two technologies between cell broadcasting (Cell Broadcast) and geolocated SMS, or Location-Based Short Message System (LB-SMS).
New alert gear, a mixed solution
Cellular broadcast technology allows a written and audible notification to be sent to all cell phones present within the broadcast range of a telecommunications antenna. Some countries, like Japan and the United States, have been using it for almost 20 years.
It has the advantage of instantly broadcasting a message to a large number of people. It also facilitates communication with foreign tourists traveling in the affected area by sending a message translated into the language of the recipient’s telephone. The technology, however, requires a relatively new device (after 2012), having cell broadcast technology.
However, CB suffers from major disadvantages. It only works on a specific network. At least in France, it remains confined to the 4G network alone, which prevents part of the population from having access to the service. Another specificity, it does not allow public authorities to know how many people have received and read the alert message. A problem for the organization of the various actors during crisis management.
“ Since June 2022, cell broadcasting has been deployed and is technically functional in France, complementing about 2000 sirensexplains Johnny Douvinet, geographer and Professor at the University of Avignon, but by the first half of 2023, the LB-SMS should be set up on the national territory, and the satellite alert will even be operational by 2024”.
The LB-SMS should make it possible to fill the limits of the CB. The technology works for its part thanks to traditional communication networks (2G up to 5G) and allows the sending of an SMS to all the telephones present in a defined area. The authorities can thus know the exact number of telephones reached by the signal. On the other hand, the LB-SMS also suffers from a technical limitation. Massive sending of an SMS to many users can saturate the network. There is therefore a risk of congestion, such as during large gatherings where calls and SMS struggle to be routed.
These two new technologies complement an aging and inefficient system centered on the use of sirens.
A catch-up delay
Distinctive sign, the sirens, tested every first Wednesday of the month in the cities, have this advantage of being returned to everyday life. A gripping sound, but which today seems somewhat anachronistic. Implemented after the Second World War by General de Gaulle, the National Alert Network (RNA) was deployed with the aim of alerting populations in the face of an air attack. In 1960, they were only 1000, in 2010, 4291 mermaids were spread over the territory. But their use quickly became obsolete, even useless.
In addition to the multitude of technical limits, for example electrical malfunctions, the aging of devices or the radius of diffusion, the alarm itself ultimately only gives vague, incomplete information and concerns only a small number of inhabitants. The State has tried to improve and modernize the system at the national level by investing more than €80 million within the framework of the Public Alert and Information System (SAIP), without these investments are really effective. Even with the new SAIP network, sirens would affect less than 30% of the population.
And still it is necessary that the sirens are used. In almost 60 years of existence, the sirens have sounded in France only about ten times, including only 2 times during a climatic episode. The fault mainly with a fear of the public authorities to create movements of panic in the populations.
But those days are now over with the creation of a hybrid network. ” France has caught up, and has even become a leader at the European Union levelspecifies Johnny Douvinet, since out of the 27 EU member countries, only 5 countries have decided to integrate both CB and LB-SMS systems”.
A functional system, however, does not mean that it is effective. As the researcher from the University of Avignon points out, now comes the periods of sensitization and training of the competent authorities in the triggering of alert systems, in order to ensure an orderly and legitimate triggering of FR-Alert.
Do with technology
But this prevention exercise must also be carried out at the level of citizens. The alert process must be understood, accepted and mastered by the French who, since article 4 of the Civil Security Modernization Act of August 13, 2004, must now ensure “ to notify the emergency services and to take the first necessary measures », in the event of major events.
The distribution of FR-Alerte must first overcome the obstacle of digital confidentiality. As explained in this technical report written as part of the Cap-4-MultiCan’Alert project of the University of Avignon, “ flaws in the security of the LBAS could also be explored, and the sending of false alerts or fraudulent messages to the population is thus entirely possible “. The smartphone, social networks, geolocation tools, all the benefits they offer, make its users more vulnerable in the protection of their data. On the contrary, with this new device, those who deprive themselves of digital tools find themselves at a disadvantage.
The democratization of individual digital devices in alerting populations also questions the environmental weight of such tools. The smartphone, however small it may be, hides an entire digital ecosystem (antennas, servers, material extraction mines, etc.) that is polluting and expensive to install and maintain.
Beyond the simple alert, risk management during extreme, climatic, terrorist, and/or industrial events requires the coordinated action of all actors, state, institutional, private, associations and those on the front line. during a disaster: the citizens. The latter are, in particular thanks to spontaneous mutual aid, the last bastion against the shortcomings of the public and private sectors in the management of a crisis.
Image by Hans from Pixabay
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