The annoying warning sound that you hear from your phone when you get information and updates about the typhoon could save your life and the lives of the people around you. It is called Cell Broadcast Service or CBS, a notification just like a text message but appears on your phone screen instantly without you clicking or tapping anything. Depending on the settings of your phone it could also vibrate or make a very distinct and loud sound that is reserved for this type of broadcast.

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While it is tempting to switch this feature OFF, I would advise readers to reconsider as this service is implemented for a good reason.

According to the World Bank report titled “Natural Hazards, UnNatural Disasters: The Economics of Effective Prevention” one of the three key sectors where investment can be focused to help minimize the effects of, or even prevent, disasters is that of early warning systems.

An effective early warning system can substantially reduce death and damage by giving the population time to flee or protect their properties from flood, typhoon, and other disasters. Early warnings when given on time could also provide government agencies useful information on where to pre-position assets to save lives and infrastructures.  Here comes the Cell Broadcast Service, a technology that could provide an effective Public Warning System (PWS).

Here’s what the GSM Association or GSMA an industry organization that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide has to say about CBS:

Although Cell Broadcast System (CBS) is not as familiar as SMS to most mobile users, it has several key distinctions that make it more applicable as a PWS service. These include:

Message Display – The message can be displayed on the handset with no user interaction and a distinct warning tone sounded. CBS also has the capability to deliver messages in multiple languages.

Message Delivery – CBS works on a broadcast i.e. one-to-many basis; One message can be sent to millions of devices quickly and the message is broadcast to all connected handsets within a designated target area. The area can be as large as an entire network or as small as a single cell.

Message Security – Another key advantage of CBS is that it addresses certain security concerns. The recipients remain anonymous as CBS does not require registration of numbers or maintenance of a number database, and messages are sent to all users within a geographic area. Unlike SMS, where messages can be sent from any source and the identity of the sender is difficult to verify, CBS messages can only be sent by authorized personnel who have been given access to the system.

While issues have come up since this service was implemented in the Philippines, these I believe have been answered based on social media posts from my friends who now receive the CBS on time and not five hours after the warning was released by the government.

An emergency could strike anytime, by default, many phone brands when it gets the message would ignore volume settings, and even if you put your phone to silent mode. Alerts sent via SMS or Social Media could be easily missed when these settings are on.

What if after reading this you still need to SWITCH OFF that feature?  Just go to your phone’s settings and search for “emergency alerts” and toggle the switch to OFF one by one.

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