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A few days ago , Israel received a disturbing wake-up call when a couple of rockets were fired into one of its central tourist attractions, the southern city of Eilat. Sirens went off and warned the population, but citizens and guests alike were caught off-guard, some thinking the sirens were just a little late for Memorial Day and many unsure what they should do.
This confusion can be avoided in the future, thanks to a system planned by Israel’s Department of Science and Technology in the Ministry of Defense, based on technologies developed by Israeli start-up eVigilo. The company, founded in 2008 and based in Netanya, builds technological solutions that enable authorities to alert citizens about critical events using all available communications systems in the selected geographical location.
In the last few years, the company has already built a system that lets citizens be alerted by a special kind of SMS called Cell Broadcast (a.k.a operator messages in some old devices). This technology, supported by vast majority of cellphones, sends messages from the network operator to all supported devices within reception of the chosen broadcast towers (antennae), thus reaching all clients in the selected area. This system, called Personal Message and developed with a 27 million NIS budget, was tested late last year and operated in southern Israel during operation Pillar of Defense last November. Several authorities around the world have already bought similar systems from the company for Tsunami alerts, including Chile, several European states and a few cities along the Israeli shore.
The next stage in Israel’s plan is broadening the system to include all mass media: television, radio, billboards, sirens and the Internet, using unnamed technologies to take over screens and audio devices to broadcast emergency messages to every connected device. This way, critical alerts can reach almost everyone within the affected area within seconds. The IDF Home Front Command has already made plans to build the system and given it a budget of 400 million NIS over several years, and is building a central command where all related authorities – from the IDF to the Ministries of Health and Environment to the police – can collaborate in situations such as the Eilat attack.
“The system’s main cause is to supply citizens with timely information”, says Feliks Vainik, eVigilo’s manager of business marketing and development. “The more channels this information is sent over, the higher the chance it will reach each citizen”. All alerts, he adds, will be extremely targeted in order to narrow the disturbance to as few people as possible without missing anyone who might be affected.
But Israel’s recent financial uncertainty has put the whole project at risk. The defense budget is under threats to be cut down. The company, which intends of taking part in building National Message, is asking not to hurt this project. “This system is simply a lifesaver”.