The Badger was untangling a tape strangling a vintage cassette player when last weekend’s first cellular UK national emergency alert test happened. When the alert sounded on his smartphone, it made him jump because he thought he’d broken something in the cassette player! Within a second or so, however, the Badger realised it was the alert test.
The merits or otherwise of the new emergency alert system has had extensive coverage in UK media and on social media, but the Badger thinks it’s a useful public safety facility, if used wisely, given the dynamics and tensions of today’s world. The Badger learned during his IT career that for systems like this to be truly successful, the discipline, processes, and motives of the people controlling its use are as important as the system’s capabilities, engineering, and robustness. Will those in charge use it wisely? Time will tell, but if there’s a false alarm event like that in Hawaii in 2018 then public distrust of systems and those who control them will reach levels that are off the scale!
The alert test was also a reminder that communication networks are the unseen plumbing of today’s digital world. As the Badger cogitated on this point, his landline phone warbled. He automatically picked up the handset without looking at the caller display showing a UK landline number that’s not in his address book. ‘Hello, are you the homeowner and responsible for the computer at your address?’, an Indian lady asked. Scam, the Badger thought before answering with ‘Who are you, who do you work for, and how did you get this number?’ The lady just repeated her question, and the Badger terminated the call. The phone immediately rang again, this time the caller display showed a UK mobile phone number that isn’t in his address book. It was the same lady who cheekily asked, ‘Why did you put the phone down?’ The Badger answered, ‘This call is being recorded’, and the lady terminated the call. Checking the two caller numbers using Who Called Me confirmed that the calls were not from a reputable telemarketing source.
So, here’s the thing. Public suspicion and distrust of emails, social media content, and telephone calls continues to grow. We are relentlessly bombarded with spurious contact and content, and so it’s unsurprising that many are rather dubious about a cellular National Emergency Alert System. Other countries already have similar systems, and the Badger feels the new system is ‘technology for good’ and has a role in the UK public safety landscape. If the first real National Alert to his smartphone, however, is to warn of a nuclear attack, then the Badger’s realistic enough to know that by the time he’s read the message and decided whether its real or the result of hacking by bad actors, it’ll be too late…