What to do if you live near Mediterranean and missed tsunami SMS alert

Phone type, location, and settings may have affected why some people failed to receive the practice texts

People walking along Nice’s famous seafront received the alert, but not all phones in the city did
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People across nine Mediterranean departments in France received a tsunami text alert on Friday (January 19) in a test of the FR-Alert warning system.

The drill was widely publicised, with people being informed the message would arrive between 10:00 and 10:30.

The text message, which emitted a noise regardless of whether a phone was placed on ‘silent’ mode or not, also comes with details of the warning (or in this case an explanation of the test).

Some people even received the text in English, as authorities used information including the purchase location and settings of a phone to determine whether to send a message in both languages.

However, not everybody received the text, even if they were expecting to do so.

The lack of a text is not a cause for concern for most people, however, as this was due to a number of factors, including which areas were defined as ‘coastal’, and the new technology being deployed.

We explain the main reasons below.

Only people in ‘coastal’ areas warned

In most cases, the reason people did not receive an alert was because they were only for those in areas defined as ‘coastal’, which varied between authorities.

In Nice (Alpes-Maritimes) and the surrounding area, for example, people directly by the coast received the text, but those slightly further inland (including near the city’s main railway station) were not within the text’s catchment area.

This was replicated across many of the coastal communes in question, with only a fraction of the actual area covered.

People with properties in the defined areas may still not have received the text however, as warnings are sent out based on a phone’s current location.

Only those who were currently in one of the predefined zones received the texts.

This includes tourists visiting the area – hence the use of English for some of the messages – but for those who were not in the area, even if their mobile is registered to an address in the zone, they did not receive it.

Read more: Will France’s FR-Alert warning system work with foreign phones?

Incompatible phone models

This leads to a second common reason – phones without certain modern technologies may be unable to receive the texts.

The alert system uses internet technology (4G and 5G) to pinpoint the phone’s within the warning areas, as opposed to sending out a traditional ‘text’, which uses a mobile phone’s signal.

Any phone that had no internet compatibility did not receive the texts, and some phones with only 3G or 2G (older internet capacity) compatibility may also have been too old to receive the alert.

The FR-Alert system is intended to eventually work with almost all phones that have any internet capability, however tests such as these are used to identify problems with older models not receiving the texts.

A survey about the process will be available in the coming weeks (you should contact your mairie if you think you should have received a text but did not) where feedback will be collected.

Alongside older phones, those that were turned off, in flight mode, or are non-French phones with ‘data roaming’ turned off also did not receive the message, as internet data on the phone’s position was unavailable to the authorities.

Some phones that needed software updates may also not have received the alert, due to technical issues.

Read more: Stranger helps save baby thanks to urgent first-aid app in France

Alerts disabled in phone’s settings

Another potential reason could be your phone’s settings.

Apple phones should automatically have the setting to ‘enable government alert warnings’ turned on by default, however this may have been turned off, especially if your phone is second-hand.

You can check this by going to Settings > Notifications on your phone.

Scroll to the bottom of the screen to find the ‘Government Alerts’ section, where you can activate and deactivate the alerts to your choosing, depending on their type and level (as well as disable future test notifications).

For Android users (other smartphones that are not ‘Apple’ branded), go to Settings > Notifications > Advanced settings, ‘Wireless emergency alerts’. For some devices, you can just type ‘Emergency alerts’ in the settings tab to find this.

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