NL-Alert features tested nationwide along with air sirens

NL-Alert test message sent on 3 June 2019
NL-Alert test message sent on 3 June 2019Photo: NL Times

A new NL-Alert system was tested in the Netherlands at noon on Monday. Many people who were not aware of the test were confused by the alert suddenly popping up on their phone accompanied by an unusual ringtone. The alert should have been received at the same time as the country's monthly test of 4,283 air sirens that also serve to warn the public.

If you received the test alert, it means that your phone is properly set up with the alert system, the government said. Smartphone owners who did not receive the alert may have had an empty battery or a lack of signal, or their phones were not configured correctly to work with the system. Users can check their phone settings to make sure they are capable of handling emergency notifications issued by the Dutch government, though some phone owners intentionally choose to turn alerts off because the warning system can negatively impact battery life.

The NL-Alert system is meant to inform as many people as possible in case of a disaster in their area. In addition to sending messages to the public's phones, the new system also displays alerts on digital advertisement signs, and on departure boards at bus, tram and subway stops. 

The system is tested twice per year, with the next test scheduled for December 2. During the previous NL-Alert test in December, 74 percent of the Dutch population age 12 and older received the alert on their phones. That is over 11 million people, and around 300 thousand people saw the alert on digital departure boards at train stations and other public transit stops.

NL-Alert was first rolled out at the end of 2012. It was notably used to warn people in the Netherlands not to travel to Amsterdam for the Europa League final match between Ajax and Manchester United in May 2017. The city had expected about 100,000 people to show up in an attempt to watch the match on a big screen at Museumplein, but over a 120,000 were already in the city center about an hour before the match began prompting the national warning.

The system was also used to warn people in specific neighborhoods of hazardous situations resulting from fires, and other events resulting in toxic smoke and debris.

Along with the mobile phone test and the display board take-over, Monday's NL-Alert test took place at the same time as the monthly test of the country's emergency air sirens was also conducted. The sirens are tested at noon on the first Monday of every month.

The Ministry of Security and Justice announced in 2015 that the sirens would no longer be used past 2017, however funding was earmarked to keep the sirens operational at least through 2020 while bugs in the NL-Alert system were worked out. No announcement has been made about the operation of the sirens beyond 2020.

In 2017 it was reported that it cost taxpayers roughly four million euros annually to maintain the country's air sirens.