NCC considers Cell Broadcasts for disaster alert

The China Post news staff

The National Communications Commission (NCC) is considering sending earthquake warnings via text message — as an instantaneous natural disaster alert — although it is highly implausible that such an initiative could be implemented within the next six months, according to local telecommunication service providers. Firstly, sending instantaneous, nationwide text alerts such as Cell Broadcasts would require significant upgrades of the existing messaging system. Secondly, many cell phones in Taiwan do not support the system, which would make it very difficult to implement within six months, the spokesperson for the telecom provider said in a NCC organized press conference yesterday. During the devastating earthquake in Japan and the multiple subsequent aftershocks, the Japan government sent earthquake alerts via text message to Tokyo residents 15 seconds before the seismic wave reached the city.

The central government is interested in a similar communications system, a large-scale disaster-warning platform distributed through Cell Broadcast messaging technology to afford the public ample time to prepare for a disaster. The difference between Cell Broadcasts and normal texts is that the latter is limited to sending only 2,000 texts per minute, while Cell Broadcasts can deliver messages to multiple users in a specified region. Chen Tzu-shen, the NCC managing director of technology, said although the instant nature and far-reaching aspects of Cell Broadcasts make it an ideal tool, the two-pronged issue is that current telecom companies are unable to immediately provide such services and secondly such support would require many existing customers upgrade their cellular phones as there are very few models equipped for such broadcasts.

Chen went on to say that Cell Broadcasts were created in Japan; while Taiwan has the technology, it cannot create an entire system — which would require cooperation with weather and meteorology bureaus — in a short period of time.

Japan also experimented and tested the system for many years before officially implementing it for the nation’s cell phones, mandating that all cellular phones manufactured after 2009 must support Cell Broadcasts. To create similar initiatives in Taiwan would require decisions and negotiations made between the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) and the telecommunications industry, Chen added. Enabling Cell Broadcasts greatly exhausts the phone’s battery and is typically less user-friendly; almost all cell phones in the world have discarded the use of this function, making its enforcement a difficult task, Chen said.