Civil Defence issues apology over test alert

An alarming early morning wake-up left many New Zealanders confused and angry yesterday.

An earlier-than-planned test of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management's emergency alert text service woke many Vodafone customers.

The messages, which were sent at 1.32am, 1.33am and 1.49am, broadcast a loud alarm clock-like sound, vibrated phones and was accompanied by a message advising that the service would be available by year end.

The ministry issued an apology on its website and social media shortly after.

''The three test messages were sent in error by our European-based service provider while testing the new emergency mobile alert technology,'' the apology said.

''We apologise again to all those affected and will ensure all future testing is carried out during daylight hours.''

A ministry spokesman said the test, conducted during daytime hours in Europe, occurred ''a couple of months earlier than it was meant to''.

While not all mobile phones or providers received the alert, it did not mean they would not receive the alerts in the case of a real emergency.

''There's nothing to worry about,'' the spokesman said.

''We will be doing an extensive public education campaign in the coming months to help the public know what action they can take to make sure their phone is up to date or what phones are compatible with the service.''

The wake-up call was met with equal parts confusion and derision by Dunedin's residents.

''Any idea whats [sic] going on?'' one social media user asked other Dunedin residents after the alert.

One city resident who avoided the wake-up call was Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull, who did not use a Vodafone mobile.

While he sympathised with those who lost sleep, he backed the service.

''The silver lining to the mistake is we know it actually works because it woke a lot of people up,'' he said.

''It will be a really useful tool.''

While the service was another useful addition to the suite of alerts and warnings used by authorities, it was not a ''silver bullet'', Mr Cull said.

''If people are down at the beach and feel a big earthquake they shouldn't wait for an alert - they should get the hell out of it,'' he said.

timothy.brown@odt.co.nz

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