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Latvia takes two days to alert public in crisis: LTV's De Facto

If all citizens were to be notified quickly in Latvia in the event of a crisis, it would take nearly two days, as proved recently by the alert exercise carried out by the Ministry of Defense. A quicker way has been worked on for eight years but not much has been achieved, Latvian Television's broadcast De Facto reported on September 18.

In Lithuania, through co-financing from European funds, a quick and accurate method of cell broadcasting was introduced in 2011-2012 and was further developed over the next two years. Meanwhile, in five years, Latvia managed to produce an informational report on the various types of communication and their costs.

Three years ago, a European Union directive ordered all Member States to introduce early warning systems by the beginning of this summer, enabling citizens to be informed through mobile operator services.

The basic idea is related to the so-called cell broadcasting system which makes it possible to send a message to all mobile phones located in a particular area, in a very short time. The message is received upon entry to a marked danger zone.

Formally, the directive is also respected if citizens can be informed through text messages, as is the case in Latvia. This requires a lot more time, and the messages must be sent to all recipients. Two years ago, text messages were sent to everyone to announce the beginning of the Covid pandemic. But in early September, this type of notification was tested under the AMEX 2022 training organized by the Ministry of Defense. It took two days to send this message to all mobile phone numbers registered in Latvia.

“Any first attempt, at least in my experience, has not been smooth. The craziest thing that can happen is to gloss it up and have a report that everything is fine. But in fact, training is intended precisely to identify these problems. Because it automatically comes to mind that such a problem has been there, and you remember that this has to be paid attention to,” said Jānis Garisons, State Secretary of the Ministry of Defense.

The link sent in the text message had around 150 thousand views on the first day of notification, around fifty thousand on the second. It is concluded that the majority of residents have received messages during the first day, but it is also a very long time.

Reporting via cell broadcasting first came forward in Latvia in 2014, following the tragedy in Zolitūde, when the Maxima supermarket collapsed. But at the time it did not receive sufficient support and funding.

Two years later, in 2016, the government commissioned an information report with an analysis of cell broadcasting and other reporting systems and their costs. The report was due to be ready in March 2018 (Māris Kučinskis' government). In the end, however, the report came to the government's agenda only five years later, in 2021.

The Saeima deputy, Rihards Kozlovskis (New Unity), who was the Minister for the Interior from October 2011 to January 2019, asked whether there was a political will at his time to do this work and how high the issue was among the priorities, answered: “I would not like to say that it was a secondary [matter]. Today, it is tough for me to say really whether it was a matter directly in the funding or whether it was, to some extent, a technical issue that had to be addressed."

Last year, at the beginning of the year, it was finally decided that it would be really most effective to alert people through cell broadcasting and the green light was given to begin preparing for its introduction. However, it did not yet provide specific funding, but it merely indicated that it was to be found in European funds.

“One of the reasons is that although work on the search for technological solutions took place, a technological solution had not yet been established. And the other reason is that we always include a lot more in priorities than we can actually get in the state budget. And in this case, given that the budget was adopted very much before the war, it did not go down among the top priorities,” says the Saeima deputy, former Interior Minister Marija Golubeva (Development/For!), who headed the ministry at the time of the year's budget.

Both existing and planned reporting systems are under the responsibility of the Information Center of the Ministry of the Interior. Deputy Chief of the Center Intars Ločmelis said that, in fact, the funding for the cell broadcasting system is outlined in the next programming period of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) (2022-2027).

The Ministry of Interior's Information Centre is preparing documents to finally announce procurement in October, in the hope that an alert system based on cell broadcasting could also be reached by the end of next year. The procurement will be held, even if there is no clarity on the availability of money.

It is estimated that the introduction of the new type of reporting will cost over four million euros, plus maintenance costs of around half a million per year.

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