Army Rolls Out SMS-based Rocket-alert System in Areas Near Gaza

App issues real-time warnings on cellphones, including in Bedouin communities that don’t have any sirens.

Amir Teig
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Israelis run toward a bomb shelter as a siren sounds, warning of incoming rockets in the southern city of Ashkelon, July 9, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Amir Teig

The Home Front Command said on Monday that its “Personal Message” service, which alerts people to incoming rockets through their cellphones and mobile devices, has been expanded to communities in a radius of 20 and 40 kilometers from the Gaza Strip.

The service, which supplements sirens and warnings issued over television and radio, now includes Be’er Sheva, Ashkelon, Yavne and Dimona as well as many Bedouin communities in the Negev that don’t have sirens at all, the command said.

The Personal Message system, which delivers warnings within seconds to cellphones in areas where rockets are expected to hit, was launched on Friday in Ashdod, the port city that has suffered repeated rocket barrages, even before Operation Protective Edge began on July 8.

The command said Personal Message works in 70% of all cellphones, including older pre-smartphone devices, but iPhones are not among them.

The system, which has been in development for several years, has experienced development delays that prevented it from being put into use during Israel’s last big Gaza conflict in 2012 and in the first days of Protective Edge.

Although only two civilians have been killed in rocket attacks during the fighting, many Israelis, especially in remote areas and inside large buildings, can’t hear the sirens.

As a result, a number of apps have been developed privately, many of them using variations of Tzeva Adom (“Color Red”), the Israel Defense Forces’ name for its early warning radar system. Among them is a version of the popular app “Yo,” which sends alerts to specifics areas, such as “Yo!AlertJerusalem.”

In preparation for the rollout of Personal Message, early last month Communications Minister Gilad Erdan instructed cellphone companies to set up mechanisms for interfacing with the system; he also amended the terms of their licenses so that providing emergency services would become part of their contractual obligations.