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You are here: Home > Frequently asked questions > How will it work on mobile phones?

How will it work on mobile phones?

How does the system work for mobile phones?

There are two ways the Emergency Alert system works for mobile telephones within a geographical area affected by an emergency:

  • a text message is sent based on the registered service address of the mobile telephone
  • a text message is sent based on the last known location of the handset at the time of the emergency. This includes visitors and people travelling in the area.

Based on how mobile telephone coverage works, you may receive a text message if you are outside the area of risk but you are nearby that area. It is important that you read the message carefully and understand what action you may need to take.

To find out more about location-based Emergency Alert on the 4G network see ‘Will the messages be received by mobile phones on the 4G network?’

Why do mobile phones receive text messages and not a voice message?

Warning messages can be sent significantly faster as SMS (text) message and there is less chance of encountering network congestion.

The warning message can also be received on the handset if the user is on a telephone call.

How accurate is my last known location?

The accuracy of the location of an active mobile telephone is the predicted coverage area of a mobile tower or better.

How current is my last known location?

Telstra, Optus and Vodafone update the last known location of your mobile telephone in many different ways when it interacts with the network, such as by making or receiving a call or text message.

The networks update automatically the location of all mobiles registering on them every hour, even if a mobile telephone has not made or received a call or text in that time.  The carriers use this information as the “last known location” for the purposes of Emergency Alert when a mobile is inactive.  However, on Optus’ and Vodafone’s 4G networks, this information is not yet compatible with the system they use for their Emergency Alert Location Based Solutions.

Telstra’s 4G location detection systems are fully compatible with their Emergency Alert Location Based Solution.

The compatibility gap on the Optus and Vodafone 4G networks could affect Optus’ and Vodafone’s 4G customers who:

  • are connected to the 4G network when a location-based Emergency Alert is issued and
  • have not made or received a call or sent or received an SMS in the preceding hour.

This is because Optus’ and Vodafone’s systems may not have location information for these 4G mobile phones that is compatible with their Emergency Alert Location Based Solutions.

4G mobile telephones used outside 4G network coverage areas revert to the 2G/3G networks, where they can still be detected by Optus and Vodafone (as well as Telstra) and sent a warning message using the Emergency Alert Location Based Solution.

All 4G mobile telephones on the 4G networks will continue to receive messages based on their registered service address when this is within the warning area.

Optus and Vodafone continue to work towards the introduction of 4G capabilities compatible with the location-based Emergency Alert.

Mobile telephones switched off or outside a network coverage area will not have their location updated and, therefore, the carriers cannot detect them and they will not receive a warning message from Emergency Alert.

Anyone wanting more information about 4G compatibility with Emergency Alert should contact their mobile service provider. 

How do I find out who my carrier (telco) is?

Mobile phone subscribers can find out who their carrier is by contacting their service provider.

How do you know where I am?

The mobile network records the last known location of each mobile telephone handset.

To find out more about location-based Emergency Alert on the 4G network see ‘Will the messages be received by mobile phones on the 4G network?’

Does Emergency Alert know where I am? Is it tracking me?

The Emergency Alert system does not retain location data about individual mobile telephone numbers.

What if I travel into a warning area after a warning message has been sent?

You will not receive the text message. You will only receive a text message if a new warning message is issued and your handset is active in the warning area.

Why did I receive two text messages?

Emergency services can send warning messages to mobile telephones based on the location of handsets as well as registered service addresses within a geographical area affected by an emergency.

You may receive two warning messages to your mobile telephone if your mobile telephone has a registered service address within the warning area and your mobile telephone was active within the warning area at the time of the emergency.

Why did I get a text message when I wasn't in the area under threat?

Emergency services can send warning messages to mobile telephones based on the  location of handsets and registered service addresses within a geographical area affected by an emergency.

Based on how mobile phone coverage works, it is possible that you may receive a text message if you are outside the area of risk, but you are nearby.

If you are away from home but your mobile phone is registered to an address in the warning area you may be sent text message.

If you receive a warning message, it is important that you read the message carefully and understand whether you are required to take action.

Why didn’t I get the text (SMS) message?

You may not have received the text message on your mobile telephone for a number of reasons including:

  • your text message inbox was full
  • the emergency services chose other ways to warn people who may be in the affected area at the time of the emergency
  • your mobile telephone was switched off or was not in a mobile telephone coverage area
  • the last known location of your handset was not within the warning area at the time of the emergency
  • you have not updated your registered service address.

 

What can I do to help prepare my mobile phone in case of an emergency?

There are things you can do with your mobile telephone so if there is an emergency in your local community you will be well prepared.

Being wise with how you use your mobile telephone can significantly help during an emergency by reducing the load on mobile networks, which will in turn assist in the operation of vital emergency communication services such as Triple Zero (000) (www.triplezero.gov.au) and the national telephone-based emergency warning system, Emergency Alert.

In an emergency you should use a range of information sources and check them continuously to stay aware of local conditions. These information sources may include radio, television and state or territory emergency services organisation websitesFor more information, read the fact sheet Be “mobile phone prepared” for a disaster for a disaster.

Will the messages be received by mobile phones on the 4G network?

The Emergency Alert Location Based Solution relies on the capability of each carrier to detect and locate every mobile with a last known location within the warning area set by the emergency services.

Since January 2014, Telstra’s 4G services are fully compatible with their Emergency Alert Location Based Solution.  Telstra’s 4G network reaches around 85 per cent of the Australian population and has extensive reach in rural and regional communities.

While Optus and Vodafone implemented Location Based Solutions for their 2G and 3G networks in 2013, they do not yet have Emergency Alert compatible technologies in place to detect 4G mobile phones connected to their 4G networks. 

This means that, currently, Optus and Vodafone 4G customers may only receive a location-based Emergency Alert message when they are within a warning area covered by the two carriers’ 4G networks and they have made or received a call or sent or received a text in the hour before.  Such usage causes a 4G mobile to revert to the 2G/3G networks, where Optus’ and Vodafone’s Emergency Alert Location Based Solutions can detect its location.  Without such usage, Optus and Vodafone may not be able to detect a 4G mobile on their 4G networks for the purposes of Emergency Alert and, therefore, the 4G mobile will not receive the location-based warning message sent to all mobiles.

This also means that when an Optus or Vodafone 4G customer travels entirely within a 4G coverage area and does not make or receive a call or send or receive a text in the preceding hour, Optus and Vodafone may not be able to detect their position for the Emergency Alert Location Based Solution.  Consequently, should the customer enter a warning area within the 4G coverage when the emergency services send a location-based alert, they will not receive the message.

All 4G mobiles revert to the 2G/3G networks when outside 4G coverage.  As with Telstra, Optus and Vodafone can detect the location of all mobiles on their 2G/3G networks for the purposes of their Emergency Alert Location Based Solutions.

All 4G mobiles on the 4G networks provided by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone will continue to receive warnings when the emergency services use the registered service address function provided by Emergency Alert and the address is within the warning area.

Currently, Vodafone does not provide international roaming services on its 4G networks.  Therefore, overseas visitors with 4G mobiles can only connect to the 3G networks, and the current 4G capability gap on Vodafone’s 4G networks does not affect them.

Optus does allow international roaming on its 4G networks, which means international 4G customers are affected by the current incompatibility with location-based Emergency Alert.

Optus and Vodafone continue to work towards the introduction of 4G capabilities compatible with the location-based Emergency Alert.

Anyone wanting more information about 4G compatibility with Emergency Alert should talk to their mobile service provider. 

Is Emergency Alert able to send messages to Optus Home Zone customers?

Optus mobile telephones connected to an Optus 3G Home Zone for longer than 60 minutes cannot be detected by the Emergency Alert warning system.

All mobile telephones will continue to be sent warning messages based on their registered service address.

What happens if I am working in a mobile telephone blackspot?

Emergency Alert is just one way emergency services may use to warn people that may be in the affected area at the time of the emergency.

Emergency services can use Emergency Alert to send warning messages to a geographic area based on telephones’ registered service address. Therefore, it is important that the registered service address of your mobile telephone is up to date.

If you are working in a mobile telephone blackspot and use a landline telephone, ensure that is not reliant on electricity and will continue to work if the power supply is cut.

If you are working in a mobile telephone blackspot, it is important not to rely on receiving a warning message on your mobile telephone.

People should be adequately prepared in the event of an emergency, continue to use a range of information sources – such as radio and television - and stay aware of local conditions. You should not wait to receive a warning message

Will international travellers be sent a warning message?

Yes. Emergency services can send warning messages to mobile telephones roaming on Australian mobile networks based on the location of handsets within a geographical area affected by an emergency.

Will international travellers be charged if they receive warning messages?

Mobile telephones roaming on Australian mobile networks may incur charges from the service provider if a warning message is received.

What can I do to manage mobile phone ‘blackspots’?

Emergency services can use Emergency Alert to send warning messages to landlines as well as mobile telephones based on the location of the handset.

As the system sends warnings to both landlines and mobile phones, if you live or work in an area where there are mobile phone ‘blackspots’, it is recommended that you also have a landline telephone that is not reliant on electricity.

If you live or work in an area where you believe there is a mobile phone ‘blackspot’, you can also seek advice from your telecommunications provider on what options there are to improve your mobile phone coverage.

Whether you are living, working or travelling in a mobile telephone blackspot, it is important not to rely on receiving a warning message on your mobile telephone.

Emergency Alert is just one way emergency services may use to warn people that may be in the affected area at the time of the emergency.

In an emergency you should use a range of information sources and check them continuously to stay aware of local conditions. These information sources may include radio, television and state or territory emergency services organisation websites.

Is Emergency Alert able to send messages to prepaid mobile phones?

Yes. Emergency services can send warning messages to mobile telephones based on location of handsets and registered service addresses within a geographical area affected by an emergency.

For more information read the fact sheet Receiving telephone-based emergency warnings.

I don't want my child to get warning messages on their mobile telephone. Can I prevent this?

No. There is no way to prevent your child from receiving a warning message if they have their own mobile telephone. This is because you cannot opt out of being sent warning messages sent through Emergency Alert.

It is important discuss emergency preparedness with your child, so they are able to act if they receive a warning message.

If your child receives a warning message on their mobile telephone while they are at school, they must follow the emergency procedures in place at their school.