France plans emergency text alert system by 2022

France is to introduce a national mobile phone alert system by 2022, to enable the “massive and fast sending of priority messages” to warn the country of danger or major incidents “in real time”.

25 September 2020
A man looks at a smartphone. France plans national emergency text message alert system by 2022 a year after Rouen disasterThe text message alert system would allow the government to send mass alerts to the population in case of major incidents or danger.
By Hannah Thompson

The government is aiming to roll out such a system between July 2021 and June 2022, it said on Thursday September 24.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin called the system “revolutionary” and said that €50million had been set aside for the project.

The system will rely on two “proven” technologies, firstly that of “cell broadcast”, and secondly geotagged text messages.

Used together, these will “allow the massive and fast sending of priority messages compared to traditional communication” methods, a government report said. In this way, it will be “possible to inform the population, in real time, the action to take”.

The system is set to be rolled out “by the second semester of 2021 in priority areas with high populations or that represent a particular risk”, and then across the entire country by June 2022.

The French Senate has been recommending the creation of such a system since 2010. Some other European countries already use a similar platform, including the Netherlands, which has had one in place since 2012, and non-European nations including Japan and the United States.

The EU is urging member states to introduce their own systems by June 2022.

In its report, the French government said: “Teams from the interior minister have already started working with mobile telephone operators.”

France already has an emergency alert system of sorts in place - a network of more than 2,000 sirens that are set to go off when an incident occurs. But ministers have judged the existing technology as old-fashioned and less-than effective.

Remembering Rouen

The announcement of the new alert system comes almost one year after the 2019 Lubrizol factory explosion disaster in Rouen in Normandy, which saw a huge black cloud erupt over the city after almost 10,000 tonnes of dangerous chemicals ignited accidentally.

(Photo: Le Parisien / @le_Parisien / Twitter)

Read more: French city on alert after chemical plant blast

Read more: Rouen offered rooms across France after toxic fire

Read more: Precautionary measures taken after French factory fire

The factory was classed a “Seveso” site, meaning it was a high-risk, high-security site containing many dangerous chemicals.

Mr Darmanin was speaking at a press conference to honour and remember the incident, alongside Ecology Minister Barbara Pompili.

Ms Pompili said that as well as the new alert system, the government would increase by 50% the number of inspections on dangerous and “Seveso”-rated industrial chemical storage facilities within five years. Yet, she did not confirm the 50 new inspector posts that were first announced by her ministry in June.

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