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TECHNOLOGY

Dutch trial SMS disaster alert system

By Julie Clothier for CNN

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Using text messaging to warn people they are in danger is quick and easy, says the Dutch government.

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(CNN) -- The Dutch government is testing a mobile phone danger alert system that sends text messages to people who could be affected by natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

The system, called Cell Broadcast, uses GSM technology to identify cell phone users in a particular area.

If a disaster occurs, a message is sent to all phones in the area, warning of the danger.

Interior ministry spokesman Frank van Beers told CNN that if successful, the two-year pilot would become common policy throughout the country.

He said the Cell Broadcast system will be used in addition to the other warning systems which are currently used if disaster strikes, such as sirens and special emergency broadcasts on radio and television.

"This is a more instantaneous way of informing people about what is going on right now. It's an extra medium to communicate directly with people during a disaster," he said.

"If something happens in the center of The Hague, for example, we can select communication points from telecom companies and everyone who is within a few 100 meters can get the information."

Other scenarios could include terrorist attacks, fires, explosions and leaks of toxic substances.

"If there was a toxic leak, we could tell people to stay inside."

Van Beers said only those in the area would receive the warning.

"When you are out of the Hague, if that is where the disaster is, you don't get that information."

The government is also investigating sending out the messages in different languages, so that tourists can also be informed, van Beers said.

He said the ministry had received interest from other countries' governments who were interested in adopting a similar service.

The pilot is taking place in Zoetermeer, and will soon be extended to the capital Amsterdam and the south-western province of Zeeland.

The government is working with mobile phone operators KPN, Vodafone and Telfort, which cover some 85 percent of all Dutch cell phone owners.

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