Test of alarm system alarms Bulgarians, makes them testy

A test of a national alarm system, BG-ALERT, sent to many mobile phones in Bulgaria on November 1, caused alarm and indignation – making subscribers testy, in effect. To say nothing of those who fled their homes in response to an unspecified “Emergency Alert”.

The phones of thousands of Bulgarians surprisingly made a piercing urgent sound on November 1 at 7pm, reports said.

Users said that the screeching was accompanied by a test message, a national warning and a referral to the website www.bg-alert.bg, in English, not very helpful in a country where the national language is, well, Bulgarian.

There were also subscribers who received the message in Bulgarian, Bulgarian National Radio said.

On some phones it was said that the alarm was from Bulgaria’s President.

The message warned of an – unspecified – impending danger. Reportedly, those who sought to click on the website to learn more the impending danger spelling their doom, found that it was not working, leaving them none the wiser. Reportedly again, the test message was sent to but one of three of Bulgaria’s mobile phone networks.

Bulgarian National Radio reported: “Many people were startled, especially the elderly. Social media was filled with questions and outrage. A woman shared on Facebook that the phone squealed while she was driving: ‘Cars started to stop at a roundabout, miraculously we didn’t hit each other. I’m in the car with a child who is frantically asking what’s going on. You idiots, at least apologise!’”.

The head of Bulgaria’s directorate for firefighting and civil defence, Angel Dzhartov, told public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television that the “real testing” of the early warning system would start on November 7 in Gabrovo (why Gabrovo, of all places, it did not occur to anyone to ask Dzhartov) and would continue according to “a certain schedule” until on November 22, when it would be tested at national level.

Dzhartov described the alarm on November 1 as “a technical error by the contractor”.

“The software developer made a mistake and introduced the message to be carried out not in a test, but in a real environment. This is not a mistake of the Interior Ministry, nor of the fire department,” Dzhartov said.

In connection with reports that the system will work only on phones and devices manufactured after 2020, Dzhartov said that the notification will also work with older devices. However, the message will be rendered “differently”.

Bulgarian National Radio reported that the message had prompted some members of the public to flee their homes.

Former e-government minister Bozhidar Bozhanov reassured people, in a post on Facebook, that there was no danger.

“Everything is fine, there is no danger, this is just a test message. It is high time we have such a system that is very useful in disasters and it is very good that the Interior Ministry is implementing it. The ministry needs to improve its testing process (especially in a production environment ). ‘Test test’ is not a good message,” Bozhanov said.

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