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How The Civil Defence Alert System Went

On Sunday November 25th, New Zealand experienced their own emergency alert system, like what Country Manager, Brad Law has discussed in one of his videos.

The Ministry of Civil Defence tested their Emergency Mobile Alert System between 6 and 7 pm. It reportedly reached approximately 3 million phones, just 1.7 million shy of the total population; impressive.

If you were part of this 3 million, your phone would have made a sudden, “loud, penetrating sound”. As a mobile user and New Zealand resident, you cannot opt out of these tests, nor the alerts when a real event does occur.

This test has become part of the Civil Defences (MCDEM) annual alert test that is expected to continue. A spokesman from the MCDEM said that “we were able to target more phones this year due to people upgrading their devices”.

Although this system is rarely used in legitimate events, residents are still in two minds about the system. In 2017, a system test resulted in complete failure, due to the reliance of phone networks having to carry and deliver over 4 million messages. The network supplier, however, blamed the quality of phones that New Zealanders were using, stating that the majority of Kiwis had “out of date phones”.

The Emergency Alert System

These forms of emergency systems are used all over the world in some capacity. Today, the largest used is Facebook’s Check-In notification system – post-event. This system not only notifies your contact list, but the data is also used for search and rescue teams.

Facebook’s interface has the power to contact millions of people within seconds should it need to, but again, this is only used when absolutely necessary and relies on a connection to the internet.

On a smaller scale, townships and smaller communities have used sirens and air-horns as warning systems for centuries. In the 21st century however, reaching the ever-growing population in seconds and concisely is the reality we live in.

The MCDEM is realistic, they know they cannot rely purely on technology and therefore continue to use more original approaches, like siren systems.

Ministry Director Sarah Stuart-Black said “We experience emergencies frequently in New Zealand, so [text messages]  is a channel we will be using in addition to radio, TV, online and social media to get across critical lifesaving information.”

Alerts and messages sent to residents’ phones aren’t always welcomed, . During last year’s test, Vodafone customers were awoken at 1:30 am and then again at 2 am, as the network supplier had set the wrong times. Many of the affected people took to social media to express their frustrations.

In a twist of unfortunate early morning wake up calls “alert system” searches on Google increased, RiskLogic received several complaints with residents believing we had assisted in the test. After explaining our position, it was a good opportunity to get some feedback.

Similar attitudes were recorded after the United States ran their own emergency test. Here, citizens complained that they’d been given no warning nor an option to opt in/out on these tests, complaining of an invasion of privacy.

RiskLogic has certainly found in the past that individuals with this sort of attitude are unlikely to have experienced a significant event, especially one that has impacted them. An alert system providing a head-start to a better outcome is always a positive system.

How it’s different this year for MCDEM

Civil Defence Communications Manager Anthony Frith told the Herald that “There was no chance of last year’s events occurring again”. He added that they have been running the system through external suppliers overseas and made the decision to move it all in-house in 2018.

Despite the cost of this operation, the MCDEM have made it an important and significant move to their notification strategy.

For those within a community where updated phones are rare, both the MCDEM and RiskLogic encourage you to check on neighbours and whanau whenever possible.

Unfortunately, there are still obstacles to get over when making sure everyone hears about an event. Workarounds can be put in place to combat this, for example, the MCDEM moved their Emergency Mobile Alerts onto a different bandwidth, one that is still txt but is not affected by the congestion of our largest mobile networks here.

Another issue that can arise in a mass-communications event with larger crowds, is effectively controlling them and understanding people’s movements after your alert has been shared. For organisations especially, it has been increasingly challenging to ensure staff safety, due to the introduction of working remotely and hot-desking.

What we’re doing to help


RiskLogic and FirstAction focus on organisational resilience and strategic processes, that not only help you during an event but help you thrive from the opportunities that have arisen, through the collection of advanced data to review.

When it comes to organisations supporting and reporting on their people, we are leading the way. Our controlled communications solutions via technology is changing the way you handle a crisis and emergency.

CQCommand  has been activated and used dozens of times by organisations across Australia and New Zealand.

Our Emergency Management application, Activate is now being used as the first step in the strategic recovery of an event. Combining these two and the world’s leading Business Continuity Software, BC-3, organisations can now cover all three major areas during an event with ease.

When an organisation like the MCDEM initiates a text alert, we see a spike in interest around what is available on the market. In 2019, we have forecasted technology to be adopted more than ever before. Now is the time to ask what system you have in place, remembering that it’s not just technology that can help, but an effective team as well.

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