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Sascha Lobo on Cell Broadcast: Germany's bureaucratic mockery of the 21st century


Why is there no reliable cell broadcast disaster warning system in Germany? There are three devastating reasons for this: ridiculous avarice, embarrassing party politics of the CDU and deadly know-it-all.

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Disaster Alert?

There are apps for that!

Unfortunately, they are not enough.

Photo: Rolf Vennenbernd / dpa

Let's do a little guessing game about digital infrastructure.

Which country among the ten richest nations in the world will be the only one in 2021 to have neither a cell broadcast warning system for disasters, nor is it specifically planning to introduce it?

You have tried as many guesses as there have been female chancellors in the past sixteen years.

Yes, that's - my goodness, once again! - the bitter, German, anti-digital reality that may have cost many, many human lives in the past few days. The USA, China, Japan and Canada have long had such cell phone-based warning systems, and India, Brazil, Italy, France and the UK are in the process of implementing them.

Cell broadcast is not the same as a bulk SMS, even if it is said over and over again. Instead, the network operator sends a push message of up to 1395 characters to all devices located in a certain radio cell. It appears automatically on the display and can even contain links to the Internet. Cell broadcasts are used worldwide in the event of a disaster, because they often still work when the networks are actually overloaded, and because every person who has a connected cell phone (it does not have to be a smartphone) is warned.

In Germany, the cell broadcast stand reads like a bureaucratic mockery of the 21st century. At the beginning of the millennium, the technology was switched off in this country for the first time. Because they are part of the standard set of mobile radio instruments around the world, the radio masts would also be capable of cell broadcasting in Germany. But instead of cell broadcasts for disasters, they prefer to use smartphone apps like »Nina« - although they require firstly a smartphone, secondly installation and thirdly, a certain amount of expertise. How little effective the app strategy is for nationwide disaster warnings can be seen from the number of installations. The app was installed around seven million times from 2015 to mid-2020. Even in the maximum case, that is less than ten percent of the population. For comparison:In 2019, 58 million people in Germany used WhatsApp every day.

In addition, experts like the Greens politician Malte Spitz have repeatedly recommended the introduction of cell broadcasts. Most recently at the beginning of the pandemic in spring 2020 and after the spectacularly messed up "Disaster Warning Day 2020", a large-scale, nationwide test run for the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Aid in September 2020. This warning day went so wrong that the then head of this office was fired. Among other things, the notification of the population worked poorly, and the Nina app also failed.

The AG Kritis, a working group of committed, digitally extremely knowledgeable citizens, has to be imagined as a kind of chaos computer club for so-called critical infrastructures that are needed to keep a society functioning. After the catastrophic disaster warning day, the Kritis working group wrote about cell broadcasts: »It works technically flawlessly in many other countries around the world, the EU has set the appropriate course with a regulation. Cell broadcasts are most likely to work due to the very low data load, especially when the cellular networks are completely overloaded and data can no longer get through to apps like Nina. "

So why exactly is there still no cell broadcast in Germany? According to the current state of research, as is so often the case with questions of digital failure, this cannot be answered with one hundred percent certainty. But the three most likely and intertwined answers are all staggering.

The first

is perhaps the most bitter and outrageous for a country as rich as Germany.

Cell broadcast, quoted by the head of the responsible Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief, is an "extremely expensive technology".

Namely, please note: 20 to 40 million euros.

In view of the human lives, but also in view of the fact that earlier information usually means less damage, this "extremely expensive" is a bizarro farce.

Once again, a digital infrastructure would have failed because Germany under Merkel imagined that it could save the future.


Sascha Lobo

Reality shock: ten lessons from the present

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The second answer

corresponds to the digital-political impertinence that could already be observed from the front row during the pandemic. In fact, it is forbidden in Germany to send messages to people without their prior consent. Therefore there should have been a regulation. However, according to Federal Minister of Public Affairs, Andreas Scheuer, “the political will in some areas” has been lacking. The cryptic formulation is of course intended to protect Union colleagues, but can easily be resolved. The Ministry of Economic Affairs is responsible for the necessary legal bases aimed at telecommunications companies. But to prescribe something like this, an insider said in March 2020 on the subject of cell broadcast in the corona pandemic, does not correspond to the "philosophy of the Ministry of Economic Affairs".

The third answer

belongs in the first line of justifications for most of the country's problems. It is about the German official hybrid of knowing everything better than anyone else. In case of doubt also better than your own population. When many people died as a result of the flood in North Rhine-Westphalia, Interior Minister Reul claimed that the state, with its inadequate information technology, which was proven on Warning Day 2020, was not responsible. No, the dull people out there would have all known about the heavy rain - but they didn't take the warnings seriously. So it's your own fault, according to Reul.

The EU wanted to introduce a binding warning system via cell broadcast by 2022.

But Germany pushed for an exception and got it.

EU countries can stipulate that their own warning systems are as good as cell broadcasts.

Specifically, the federal government apparently seriously stated that its apps, announcements on public broadcasting and sirens were just as effective as cell broadcasts.

Is this claim still hubris or is it grossly negligent acceptance of the dead?

Let's do the cross-check.

In June 2020, the Dutch government hosted a disaster test via cell broadcast.

It reached more than 90 percent of the population.

Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2021-07-21

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