How NDRRMC issues its emergency mobile warnings

Ever wondered why you get multiple alerts in a day or why they’re sometimes delayed? Here’s why.

MANILA, Philippines – Every year, around 20 tropical cyclones visit the country, on top of rains from the southwest monsoon or hanging habagat, as well as thunderstorms that are all too common during the rainy season.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) wants citizens to be informed about what to expect and what they must do during disasters, that’s why it issues emergency mobile alerts.

The NDRRMC and telecommunications companies are required by law to send free mobile alerts before disasters happen. This is mandated under Republic Act No. 10639 or the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act.

NDRRMC 24/7 Operations Center Officer-in-Charge (OIC) Aimee Menguilla said in an interview with Rappler, “These alerts, if you already know your area, you know the characteristics of where you live, this EAWM (emergency alert and warning message) is just a reminder to the people of what you’re supposed to do.”

How it works: As soon as the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) issues an advisory, the NDRRMC drafts a message to send to telcos, who in turn sends this to their customers.

If you’re wondering why you receive multiple messages in a day, here’s why. For rainfall warnings, the NDRRMC sends separate mobile alerts for PAGASA’s orange and red warnings. (READ: How to use PAGASA’s color-coded rainfall advisory)

PAGASA’s orange rainfall warning means intense rainfall has been observed for an hour and is expected to continue for the next two hours. Menguilla said this gives the message a time frame of about 3 hours as rainfall is expected to continue over this period of time.

On the other hand, a red rainfall warning means torrential rainfall has been observed for an hour and is expected to continue for the next two hours.

ALERTS. The NDRRMC sends mobile alerts based on PAGASA rainfall warnings.

ALERTS. The NDRRMC sends mobile alerts based on PAGASA rainfall warnings.

Menguilla also said emergency warnings may be based on advisories of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) on earthquakes and volcanic activity.

It takes up to 10 minutes to draft an alert message and send it to telcos.

A public hearing on the implementing rules and regulations of the Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act was conducted on February 26 to discuss some issues surrounding the law

The NTC targets the implementation of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) by the third week of April. What do you think should be added to the IRR?

‘Why are we making laws and then abandoning their implementation?’ Senator Grace Poe asks

“We translate it into those short messages so the description of the message is hazard-specific, area-focused, and time-bound,” Menguilla said.

Delay problems: Citizens have reported receiving delayed warnings. For instance, a mobile alert received at 9:17 pm was for a PAGASA rainfall warning issued at 4 pm. That’s a delay of more than 5 hours, and by that time, a new warning would’ve been issued already.

What causes this? It’s largely due to the limitations of mobile devices and messaging systems, the NDRRMC said.

According to NDRRMC Information and Communications Technology OIC Kelvin Ofrecio, two types of message broadcast systems are used to send alerts: short messaging system (SMS) and cell broadcast service (CBS).

CBS is faster because it can send messages to cellphones based on subscribers’ location, to pre-arranged cell sites. It also enables location-specific alerts without the need to register cellphones.

DELAYED. At times, alerts are received hours after they are issued, leaving citizens with delayed emergency warnings.

DELAYED. At times, alerts are received hours after they are issued, leaving citizens with delayed emergency warnings.

Unfortunately, not all mobile phones are equipped with this feature.

“We are implementing both types of systems. Siyempre, bawat system, merong limitation ‘yung technology (Of course, both systems have limitations in their technology),” Ofrecio said.

He added in Filipino: “CBS is used in other countries. It’s instantaneous because recipients can receive alerts within 3 to 5 seconds after telcos send them. However, we cannot fully implement this as not all handsets are compliant with the cell broadcast feature.”

Given this limitation, the NDRRMC and telcos resort to SMS to send alerts, which takes much more time as messages are sent “point-to-point” unlike CBS’ “point-to-multiple-point” system.

Ofrecio explained in Filipino: “What happens is, if the NDRRMC sends a red rainfall warning alert to Bulacan, and in that area, there are two million subscribers for example, there will be two million seconds of queuing time because it is point-to-point.”

If you’re one of those who received warnings hours after they were issued, Ofrecio said chances are those warnings were sent via SMS rather than through CBS.

Moving forward: Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes to delayed warnings at the moment, since not all phones are CBS-compliant.

It could also be the case that CBS is turned off by default in mobile phone settings.

Telcos earlier clarified that some older phones, even those made more than 15 years ago, are capable of receiving cell broadcast messages. But this feature could be turned off by default.

Ofrecio also urged the public to check if emergency alerts are enabled in their mobile phone settings.

For Android users, you can go to messaging settings and look for Emergency Alerts or Cell Broadcast. For iOS users, update to the latest version of the operating system, go to Settings, then Notifications, and scroll down to turn on Emergency Alerts.

If you’re annoyed by the alerts, you can always turn them off. But be aware that doing so carries with it great risks too. –





Countries with Cell Broadcast PWS (Public Warning System)

2009 – Japan
2009 – Sri Lanka
2012 – Netherlands
2012 – Lithuania
2012 – Turkey
2012 – Chile
2012 – USA
2014 – Taiwan
2014 – South Korea
2015 – Russia
2016 – Philippines
2016 – United Arabic Emirates
2017 – New Zealand
2018 – Romania
2018 – Canada
2018 – Oman
2019 – Greece
2020 – Peru
2020 – Hong Kong
2020 – To be revealed soon



The use of mobile technologies in Public Alerting

This paper aims at describing the state of the art regarding the use of mobile technologies in Public Warning Systems (PWS) and introducing Intersec Alerting Solution.

Context: two dominant technologies for alerting coexist on the market

The huge adoption of mobile phones all over the world is providing a great opportunity for governments to better inform population during emergency situations, by sending a message to all handsets that are in the hazardous zone. In order to do so, several technologies can be used.

In 2006 the European Telecommunication Standards Institute (ETSI) produced a report on mobile-based technologies that became the basis for an emergency messaging service. The report suggested several mobile technologies (Paging, CBS, SMS, TV, MBMS, MMS, USSD, Email, IM Service) and concluded that Cell Broadcast Service (CBS) and Short Message Service (SMS) were among the most suitable technologies for delivering a mobile-driven PWS.

cell broadcast

Cell Broadcast 

Cell Broadcast, the historical and most widespread choice

How CBS became the standard

Further 3GPP & ETSI reports define more precisely the requirements for a PWS. Although they do not specify which technology has to be used, some CBS characteristics make it particularly interesting:

It uses a dedicated channel, allowing the delivery to millions of people in seconds, without being affected by network congestion (and without causing it). On the contrary, SMS use shared signaling channels and network congestion may lead to delays in delivery.

It can be displayed automatically with no user interaction and with a special ringtone, making the CBS message instantly recognizable as an alert (unlike the SMS).

When Japan decided to implement its Earthquake and Tsunami Warning System (ETWS) in 2007 it chose CBS for its delivery speed. This aspect is indeed very important for earthquake warning, where the alert message has to be sent in the short time lapse (a few tens of seconds) between the first non-destructive waves and the real earthquake. The Japanese system was then formalized in 3GPP standards, setting the rule for future implementations.

Several countries have since followed Japan’s example and chosen CBS for their PWS, including Israel, Chile, the USA, Romania, Lithuania, Philippines, New Zealand, South Korea, Peru, Thailand,  United Arab Emirates and the Netherlands.

CBS limitations

However, CBS has one main limitation: it is not supported by all handsets and even when it is supported it requires a manual configuration from the user.

This means that it does not reach everybody. During a test conducted in the Netherlands in November 2013 many people complained on Twitter that they did not receive the message .

This was supposed to be a temporary issue but cell broadcast penetration among handsets proved to be slower than expected. As of today it is still unclear how many years will be needed before all handsets can receive CBS messages. Based on Homeland Security study on WEA mobile penetration , we can assume that from the time a country decides to implement CBS alerts, 5 to 10 years will be needed before a large percentage of the population (more than 90%) have a compatible device.

Moreover, the need for a manual configuration remains an issue, as a lot of people are still not familiar with the procedure, which can further postpone the date at which 90% of the population will actually receive the alerts.

SMS, historically second-best choice, has recently been chosen by several countries

For that reason and following recent technology improvements more and more countries are considering geo-targeted SMS as a viable option for mass-alerting. And that is how SMS, despite its limitations, is coming back on stage, maximizing the reach of the alerting campaign as all handsets natively support SMS, without requiring any configuration.

Australia was the first country to make this choice, in 2009, and today claims a rate of 93% of successful SMS delivery . SMS systems have also been deployed in Norway and Belgium, and a trial in the UK in 2013 concluded that location-based SMS was the preferred solution over CBS.

SMS overcame CBS

SMS overcame CBS 

In addition to solving the reach issue, SMS offers several advantages, such as:

  • It is less expensive and quicker to implement, as much of the infrastructure is already in place,
  • It gives a proof of delivery, insuring governments and MNOs against all liability in case of accidents,
  • It unlocks the possibility to personalize the message (e.g. the language) on a per-user basis.

However, SMS keeps the aforementioned limitations:

  • Network congestion may lead to delays in delivery,
  • A standard SMS may not be identified immediately as urgent

CBS-SMS comparative analysis: what to keep in mind

The following table summarizes the main advantages and drawbacks of the two technologies:

geo-targeted sms vs cbs

Geo-targeted sms vs CBS 

CBS and SMS are often considered as rival technologies for PWS. However, a closer look at their ad-vantages and drawbacks reveals some complementarities, meaning that using them together will solve most issues that each technology faces when used alone.

Intersec approach: combine CBS and SMS to maximize both reach and delivery speed of PWS

Intersec approach can be summarized in two key points:

  • Combine CBS and SMS channels to maximize both reach and delivery speed with advanced network congestion prevention mechanisms
  • Take advantage of our unique geofencing technology, which is both real-time and mass-scale, for advanced population movement monitoring and increased efficiency in crisis management.
    Intersec has a proven track of records for Cell Broadcast and Igloo technologies in about 15 countries covering several hundred million people. Major deployments include various affiliates in Orange Group, Weve (joint venture of EE, O2 and Vodafone in the UK) and Telefonica Group in Europe and Latin America.

Maximizing reach & time to inform everybody effectively

Intersec multi-channel approach allows to maximize both reach and delivery speed by:

  • Using CBS to inform CB activated handsets rapidly. Intersec CBS is particularly relevant in a context of PWS: it is network agnostic (2G/3G/4G), PWS standards compliant (CAP/ATIS), and includes smart network congestion mechanisms.
  • Sending SMS as a complement: first to people with a non CB compatible device and then to CB compatible devices in case CB was not configured or activated.

Moreover, Intersec solution uses real-time monitoring of subscribers density and statistics of successful delivery reports to optimize delivery timeline and which areas get alerted first. This way the delivery can benefit from the additional word of mouth effect, accelerating efficiently the spread of the alerting.

Maximizing successfulness of SMS delivery

Network congestion may cause delay in SMS delivery during emergency situations. Intersec solution implements several features designed to minimize this effect, such as:

sms delivery

  • Using our Plateforme as a cache to offload network elements such as HLR,
  • Leveraging on subscriber connection state to maximize First Delivery Attempt success,
  • Prioritizing the SMS alerting traffic over the user P2P traffic,
  • Using real-time monitoring of RAN / core network nodes load information to ensure SMS delivery across congested networks.

Increasing campaign effectiveness

GeoSafe offers two unique capabilities that allow increasing the effectiveness of an alerting campaign:
The ability to manage lists of people, to know who has been alerted,
A mass-scale real-time view over the location of all subscribers on the network.

These features increase crisis management efficiency by:

  • Sending personalized messages in the language of the subscriber,
  • Optimizing the evacuation plan by sending appropriate directions to different groups of population in the same area,
  • Monitoring the effects of the campaign in real-time (using heat maps and statistics about population movements) to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.

It also allows to communicate with the alerted population after the crisis even if they have left the area, which was identified as a key issue by Francis Markus – East Asia spokesperson for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – who commented after the Fukushima event in Japan that “the conditions faced by those displaced were made worse by them not knowing when they can return.”
Intersec provides a consolidated future proof solution, which:

  • Is 100% telco grade, highly performant and supports virtualization,
  • Maximizes the reach towards the population,
  • Integrates unique and compelling functionalities for PWS for increased crisis management and population safety.


CELL BROADCAST versus SMS: Uma discussão necessária

No dia 14 de Novembro de 2018, o Parlamento Europeu, aprovou a obrigatoriedade de todos os Países da União Europeia disponibilizarem um sistema de Alerta à População, em caso de situações de emergência.

A legislação não determina se será utilizado o Cell Broadcast ou SMS para alertar os cidadãos. Caberá a cada País decidir o tipo de tecnologia a utilizar.

Em Portugal ainda não foi decidido qual o melhor sistema a implementar para alertar a População e Visitantes. Actualmente a Protecção Civil encontra-se autorizada a enviar alertas por SMS, e apenas em caso de incêndios, sendo que está prevista a aprovação de um decreto lei que permita à Proteção Civil, e às Câmaras Municipais, o envio de SMS em caso de risco para a saúde público, acidentes graves, ou catástrofes naturais.


São vários os Países que implementaram sistemas de envio de alertas à População recorrendo ao Cell Broadcast como é o caso do Japão, Sri Lanka, Holanda, Lituânia, Turquia, Chile, Estados Unidos da América, Taiwan, Coreia do Sul, Rússia, Filipinas, Emirados Árabes Unidos, Nova Zelândia, Roménia, Canadá, Omã e Grécia e que estão a implementar ou em testes, Áustria, Reino Unido, Eslovénia, Turquia, Arábia Saudita, China, México, Equador, Perú e Honduras.

Outros Países optaram por implementar um sistema recorrendo aos SMS baseados em localização, como é o caso da Bélgica, Islândia, Austrália, Suécia e Noruega.


Vantagens e desvantagens

Para uma comunicação rápida e eficaz com a População e Visitantes o ideal será utilizar-se o Cell Broadcast, que funciona nas redes 2G, 3G e 4G, estando padronizado para o 5G. Daí ser a escolha de muitos Países, onde o mesmo se encontra implementado, para o envio de Alertas. O tempo decorrido desde o envio do Alerta por parte das entidades para uma ou mais áreas geográficas definidas e a recepção dessa mensagem é sensivelmente de 4 segundos em todos os equipamentos.

As mensagens enviadas recorrendo ao Cell Broadcast não sofrem atrasos na entrega, mesmo havendo saturação nos serviços de dados, voz e sms em determinada zona geográfica. Pode ser enviado um alerta para milhares de utilizadores sem que haja degradação no serviço. No caso das SMS, ao enviar-se milhares de SMS em massa ocorrem atrasos na entrega que podem ser de até ou mais que 3 horas após o envio. Recentemente essa situação aconteceu nas Filipinas, em que a População que recebeu o alerta por Cell Broadcast recebeu poucos segundos depois, e quem recebeu o alerta por SMS recebeu com um atraso de 3 horas.

Com a padronização do Cell Broadcast os alertas podem ser recebidos em qualquer País que tenha adoptado este sistema, se viajarmos até à Holanda ou os Estados Unidos, e se houver o envio de um alerta o mesmo será recebido no equipamento.

Os alertas são recebidos numa determinada área geográfica seleccionada pelas entidades competentes, a mensagem é apresentada no ecrã do equipamento, seguido de vibração, alerta sonoro e leitura por voz. A mensagem poderá estar escrita em mais que uma língua. No Canadá enviam os alertas em Francês e Inglês.

Na Roménia e na Holanda permitem a configuração de canais Cell Broadcast manualmente nos equipamentos mais antigos, para que possam receber os alertas. Em Portugal apenas a operadora móvel altice MEO possui o Cell Broadcast activo em toda a sua rede 2G. Os clientes e visitantes que possuam um equipamento configurado no Canal 50, recebem a informação do indicativo e Região onde se encontram no momento, por exemplo “21 Lisboa”.

Como as mensagens de Cell Broadcast funcionam tipo as emissões das estações de rádio AM ou FM, qualquer utilizador que esteja na área geográfica definida para o envio do alerta, recebe as mensagens de forma anónima, o operador não tem conhecimento de quem recebeu as mensagens.

É possível desactivar a recepção de mensagens de Cell Broadcast nos equipamentos. Nos Estados Unidos, Canadá e Nova Zelândia não é possível desactivar os alertas nos equipamentos por decisão do Governo.


  • O investimento inicial
  • A compatibilidade dos equipamentos existentes no mercado: por exemplo no caso dos iPhones teria que ser necessário pedir à Apple uma actualização de software, e nos restantes equipamentos seria necessário uma configuração manual por parte dos utilizadores.

A vantagem do SMS em relação ao Cell Broadcast é que todos os equipamentos suportam a recepção de SMS, numa fase inicial permitiria chegar a quase 100% dos utilizadores.


  • Atraso nas mensagens que podem levar horas a chegar aos utilizadores, há exemplos práticos disso onde recentemente nas Filipinas as SMS levaram 3 horas a serem entregues à População. Em Portugal também assistimos a atrasos na entrega das SMS porque estarão sempre dependentes de vários factores como a capacidade e saturação da rede em determinados locais.
  • Não é possível realizar Opt-out.
  • É possível serem enviadas SMS falsas em nome de uma entidade, correndo o risco de se criar o pânico na População.
  • Questões de privacidade: há uma base de dados LBS com o registo das localizações dos assinantes e visitantes.

Um possível obstáculo à implementação do Cell Broadcast em Portugal para um sistema de alerta e aviso à População poderá ser o factor financeiro. Os SMS estão amplamente disseminados, no Cell Broadcast teria que existir investimento. Por parte das operadoras móveis não existe um modelo de negócio onde possam ter retorno financeiro com o Cell Broadcast. Em todos os Países onde o mesmo foi implementado teve que existir uma decisão Política e investimento por parte do Governo.



Acima podemos ver o menu de configuração para o sistema de alertas via CELL BROADCAST SYSTEM

Nas imagens abaixo dois exemplos de alertas via CELL BROADCAST SYSTEM na Roménia


Um Cell Broadcast System consiste em um Cell Broadcast Center (CBC) localizado na rede de um operador móvel. Poderá existir um ou mais que um Cell Broadcast Entities (CBE), dependente das entidades que irão gerar as mensagens. Os CBEs estão disponíveis em diferentes tipos e podem ser fornecidos como um terminal simples ou como uma aplicação. Seja qual for a configuração escolhida pelas entidades, a complexidade do serviço da rede móvel permanece oculta pelo CBC, tornando o serviço de Cell Broadcast simples de usar. Por meio do CBE, as entidades simplesmente criam uma mensagem e seleccionam o local ou os locais para os quais precisam enviar a mensagem, usando uma interface de utilizador intuitiva. A mensagem é então enviada para o CBC que mapeia a área de destino para as células da rede móvel. Subsequentemente, o CBC envia a mensagem aos elementos de rede de acesso de rádio requeridos que gerenciam a transmissão da mensagem nas células da área geográfica escolhida.

Arquitectura de um Cell Broadcast System

SMS – Mensagens enviadas point-to-point

CBS – Mensagens enviadas one-to-many

Arquitectura do CBS da Nova Zelândia

Alerta via Cell Broadcast nas Filipinas

Vários equipamentos nos Estados Unidos a receberem um Alerta por Cell Broadcast


Com a aprovação do Parlamento Europeu da obrigatoriedade de todos os países da União Europeia disponibilizarem um sistema de Alerta à População, julgamos estar na altura de termos todos, enquanto cidadãos activos e intervenientes, uma discussão aberta e não somente técnica, sobre que solução adoptar no nosso país.

Na VOST Portugal somos da opinião, que a melhor solução é aquela que mais rapidamente fará chegar os alertas ao maior número de pessoas nas áreas afectadas. Temos variados exemplos, infelizmente, onde um CBS poderia ter evitado perdas humanas e materiais, e existe agora uma oportunidade única para implementar uma solução que sirva as populações.

Deixamos aqui algumas questões, que nos parecem pertinentes para esta discussão:

  • Quais são as entidades que estão a ser consultadas no sentido de termos uma legislação que sirva os cidadãos?
  • Quais são as tecnologias de comunicação móvel a serem consideradas para informar a população?
  • Como o tema é complexo, quais são as iniciativas adicionais previstas para assegurar uma discussão que envolva todos os cidadãos?



Smart provides communications equipment to support disaster preparedness efforts

Philippines’ mobile operator Smart Communications has provided communications equipment to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). The government disaster agency can now access Smart’s Emergency Cell Broadcast System (ECBS) and use it to quickly send public warnings to mobile phone users in specific areas.

The ECBS is designed to send urgent messages, such as evacuation notices and earthquake and tsunami warnings to activated mobile devices within the affected area. According to Smart, cell broadcast is effective in disseminating quick hazard alerts because it operates on a radio channel separate from those used by voice calls and text messages or SMS, which may get congested in times of calamities.

NDRRMC, the National Telecommunications Commission, and Smart, launched ECBS on a trial basis in March 2017. It has since been used to broadcast quick alerts during typhoons and post-earthquake situations. Most recently, ECBS messages were sent to Albay residents in the wake of the eruption of the Mayon Volcano. During this trial period, the alert messages were sent by the NDRRMC to Smart which then transmitted the messages. With the turnover, NDRRMC personnel will be trained on how to use the equipment to send out messages themselves, Smart also said.



Smart deploys cell broadcast technology, complies with RA 10639

Smart Communications has successfully tested its cell broadcast technology recently in key areas of the Philippines, including the National Capital Region (NCR). This is in compliance with Republic Act 10639 or “The Free Mobile Disaster Alerts Act,” which mandates telecoms services providers to send free mobile alerts during times of calamities.

Smart CBC Test Broadcast

“Unlike SMS or text services, cell broadcast technology has its own dedicated channel, ensuring sustained broadcast alerts even when the network receives heavy traffic from all the calls and messages made during disasters. This makes it a viable platform solution for a mobile-based alert system,” said Ramon R. Isberto, Head of Public Affairs at PLDT and Smart. “We encourage everyone to configure their mobile devices so that they can receive emergency alerts in the future.”

The company invested about P500 million in this messaging platform to enable the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and Phivolcs to quickly send alert messages to mobile phone users in specific areas facing natural calamities or other emergencies.

Shown in photo during a presentation of Smart’s new cell broadcast service, from left, are Deputy Commissioner Edgardo V. Cabarios, Deputy Commissioner Delilah F. Deles, Commissioner Gamaliel A. Cordoba, Ramon R. Isberto, head of Smart Public Affairs; Atty. Joel Peneyra of PLDT Regulatory Group, and NTC Regulation Chief Engr. Imelda R. Walcien.