FIVE MONTHS ago, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) raised the red flag on how the do-not-disturb (DND) facility on mobile phones prevented it from disseminating early warning messages. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has finally responded by asking telecom operators to allow those who opted for DND to receive these SMS alerts.
Since July, when the NDMA raised the issue in a letter to DoT, the country witnessed some of the worst natural disasters, including rains and floods in Kerala that killed close to 500 people, flash floods in Assam and Cyclone Titli that hit the Odisha-Andhra coast last month.
The NDMA had spotted the DND loophole while testing its Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) system early this year. On November 13, the DoT invoked its unified licencing norms and asked operators to make provisions in their networks so that DND-enabled phones receive alerts from the CAP system.
In its July letter to the DoT, the NDMA wrote: “Pilot testing has been carried out with Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Jammu & Kashmir states successfully. On request of the J&K state, the (CAP) system is being used for Shri Amarnath Ji Yatra. As and when J&K state needs, messages are being disseminated on the route to yatris (pilgrims) as well as the state responders involved.”
The letter, written by NDMA Joint Secretary (Mitigation) Anil Kumar Sanghi, said: “During pilot testing, feedback has been received that the persons registered with DND facility did not receive early warning messages can prove to be a life saver many times.”
The CAP system, developed by DoT and Centre for Development of Telematics, enables disaster management authorities to send messages to people in specific areas without the intervention of telecom service providers.
The system acts as an interface between the disaster management agency and telecom networks. It was deployed during the Kerala floods by the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority but whether those alerts received DND-enabled phones was not ascertained.
According to telecom industry representatives, however, the authorities should have studied the protocols earlier to ensure efficient functioning of the system.
“So far, communications regarding disasters was conveyed by the operators themselves based on requests from various entities, including the Home Ministry, Telecom Department, state governments and local district magistrates. According to our estimates, these messages reached over 1 million people,” Rajan Mathews, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India, told The Indian Express.
“However, the messages from CAP system does not come from operators, and when a third-party comes to us, we have to check them against the DND register. Now, of course, this would be corrected,” he said.