What is Austria’s new disaster warning system and how does it work?

Austria's new smartphone disaster warning system is ready to be implemented after a governmental assessment period. Here's how it works and when it might be used.

What is Austria's new disaster warning system and how does it work?
Which mobile phone provider is the best in Austria? (Photo by Pixabay /Pexels)

Following severe storms in Austria during the summer months, the Austrian Federal Government has announced a new smartphone disaster warning system will be implemented in the coming months.

The AT-Alert system will involve push notifications sent to smartphones to warn people of disasters like storms, chemical accidents or terrorist attacks, reports ORF.

It is expected to be rolled-out in the first quarter of 2023 in coordination with mobile phone companies, the nine federal state warning centres and the Ministry of the Interior.

READ MORE: The smartphone apps that make living in Austria easier

Secretary of State for Digitization Florian Tursky (ÖVP) said: “Almost 90 percent of all Austrians own a smartphone – our daily companion.

“It is obvious that we should get warnings about this in everyday life. The last few months in particular have shown how important and necessary it is to provide people with quick and simple information.” 

AT-Alert will be used in addition to the existing siren alarm in Austria to become the country’s public warning system. It will operate in a similar way to the EU-Alert, the bloc’s public warning system that uses cell broadcast technology, also known as push notifications.

The technology enables disaster alerts to be sent to multiple mobile phones at the same time.

FOR MEMBERS: What is Austria’s official emergency-warning phone app and do I need it?

What other disaster warning systems does Austria have?

The Ministry of the Interior already has a smartphone app called KATWARN, which can warn of potential emergencies and disasters. But only for people that have downloaded the app.

KATWARN is a system that displays information and warnings from various authorities based on location or topic to smartphones, the Ministry of Interior says.

The app complements the existing warning options such as sirens, loudspeakers and media broadcasts. The advantage is that it can immediately warn people of any significant events, informing them of the danger and, just as important, giving immediate information on how to behave.

READ ALSO: Ten essential apps to download for living in Vienna

According to the Bundesministerium Inneres, some of the examples given for when KATWARN is used include police emergencies, natural disasters and extreme weather hazards and any major events or industrial accidents.

Additionally, the app may be used for call outs to the public, for example, with information on missing persons.

You can download the app by accessing your app store and searching for “KATWARN Österreich/Austria”. Here is the link for Apple’s App Store and the Google Play store.

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‘A great day for consumers in Europe’: EU votes for single smartphone charger

The EU parliament on Tuesday passed a new law requiring USB-C to be the single charger standard for all new smartphones, tablets and cameras from late 2024 in a move that was heralded a "great day for consumers".

'A great day for consumers in Europe': EU votes for single smartphone charger

The measure, which EU lawmakers adopted with a vote 602 in favour, 13 against, will – in Europe at least – push Apple to drop its outdated Lightning port on its iPhones for the USB-C one already used by many of its competitors.

Makers of laptops will have extra time, from early 2026, to also follow suit.

EU policymakers say the single charger rule will simplify the life of Europeans, reduce the mountain of obsolete chargers and reduce costs for consumers.

It is expected to save at least 200 million euros ($195 million) per year and cut more than a thousand tonnes of EU electronic waste every year, the bloc’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager said.

The EU move is expected to ripple around the world.

The European Union’s 27 countries are home to 450 million people who count among the world’s wealthiest consumers. Regulatory changes in the bloc often set global industry norms in what is known as the Brussels Effect.

“Today is a great day for consumers, a great day  for our environment,” Maltese MEP Alex Agius Saliba, the European Parliament’s pointman on the issue, said.

“After more than a decade; the single charger for multiple electronic devices will finally become a reality for Europe and hopefully we can also inspire the rest of the world,” he said.

Faster data speed

Apple, the world’s second-biggest seller of smartphones after Samsung, already uses USB-C charging ports on its iPads and laptops.

But it resisted EU legislation to force a change away from its Lightning ports on its iPhones, saying that was disproportionate and would stifle innovation.

However some users of its latest flagship iPhone models — which can capture extremely high-resolution photos and videos in massive data files — complain that the Lightning cable transfers data at only a bare fraction of the speed USB-C does.

The EU law will in two years’ time apply to all handheld mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones, headsets, portable speakers, handheld videogame consoles, e-readers, earbuds, keyboards, mice and portable navigation systems.

People buying a device will have the choice of getting one with or without a USB-C charger, to take advantage of the fact they might already have at least one cable at home.

Makers of electronic consumer items in Europe agreed a single charging norm from dozens on the market a decade ago under a voluntary agreement with the European Commission.

But Apple refused to abide by it, and other manufacturers kept their alternative cables going, meaning there are still some six types knocking  around.

They include old-style USB-A, mini-USB and USB-micro, creating a jumble of cables for consumers.

USB-C ports can charge at up to 100 Watts, transfer data up to 40 gigabits per second, and can serve to hook up to external displays.

Apple also offers wireless charging for its latest iPhones — and there is speculation it might do away with charging ports for cables entirely in future models.

But currently the wireless charging option offers lower power and data transfer speeds than USB-C.