If you were on the Meir shopping street in central Antwerp this afternoon and received an unsolicited text message, keep calm. It wasn’t a cyber-attack, it was the city itself.
At precisely 14.00, Antwerp carried out a test of its sms-alarm system, designed to alert people in any particular local area in cases of danger of any kind.
The local alarm can give instructions, for example to stay indoors or to report to a local meeting point.
On this occasion, the location chosen was the busy pedestrian shopping street Meir, on the afternoon of the very first day of the summer sales.
Press and media were informed, but asked not to publish details in advance so that the experimental message would be received in as realistic way as possible.
The test is part of the BE-Alert system, which is intended to inform the public by SMS, telephone or email of an emergency situation in their local area. For privacy reasons, the warnings are for the time being only sent to people who have signed up at the BE-Alert website. However if a genuine emergency were to arise, everyone within range of a given mast or masts would receive the message.
The majority of municipalities in the country have joined in the network, with a few exceptions. Those include Overijse just outside Brussels, Ternat in East Flanders and Ingelmunster in West Flanders.
“The purpose of the test is to determine how accurately the system works,” the city explained in a press release.
“In order to be able to evaluate this properly, recipients are asked to provide their location via the link in the web message on antwerpen.be. If all goes well, their location should be on the Meir and surrounding streets.”
The message received is as follows (in Dutch as sent):
“BE-Alert – Antwerpen – Dit is een TEST. In noodsituaties kan de overheid u op basis van locatie een sms sturen. Info over deze test: www.antwerpen.be/be-alert.”