Panic in New Zealand over strange phone alerts

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More than two million mobile phones in New Zealand will make an unfamiliar sound when the country tries its new emergency mobile alert system on Sunday.

“The past year has shown us how important fast and reliable information is when emergencies strike,” Sarah Stuart-Black from the Ministry of Civil Defence said in a statement in Wellington.

The service will not only work for phones containing New Zealand SIM cards, but also it is expected to work on all phones that are enabled to receive cell-broadcast alerts.

The ministry expects that about one third of the country’s mobile phones (approximately 2 million phones) will receive the alerts, and this number will rise as people buy new devices over time.

This is the first official test after alerts were sent out to a number of phones in October in the middle night by mistake.

At that time, Stuart-Black explained the texts had been sent by the European provider and apologised for the error.

“It is not a normal text message sound. It is designed to make a noise that really gets your attention.” It was for this reason it would have given people a real fright being woken from a deep sleep by such a noise not understanding what the purpose of this was,” she said.

New Zealand is a country with 4.8 million inhabitants, it sits on the “Ring of Fire” – an arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes are common and the risk of tsunami is high.

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