It was Sunday evening and I was relaxing on my bed, thumbing through the pages of a book while my husband got dinner ready.

I was lost in a world of my own when I was rudely interrupted by a God-awful bleeping coming from my handbag.

The sound repeated itself from the direction of the kitchen and the lounge.

I pulled my cellphone out of my handbag, and there it was - EMERGENCY ALERT.


I had a warning on my phone's home screen and a text message from Civil Defence.

Hubby had the same on his phone, and again on my work mobile in the lounge.

There was no way I could have missed that dreadful racket - which is the point.

In a world where practically every person in this country over the age of 13 has a cellphone nearby, the mobile emergency alerts seem to me an effective and easy way to ensure everyone is quickly made aware of a natural disaster.

The last few tests I remember relied on text messages.

In May, a Bay of Plenty-wide test text alert was sent to all subscribed mobiles at 10am, but some subscribers didn't receive their texts until 10.15am.

That 15 minutes could have been the difference between life and death for thousands of people in a real disaster.

Plus, a text message is easy to miss.


I harken back to November 2016 when the possibility of a tsunami was all too real.

A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck soon after midnight and caused major damage in Kaikōura and elsewhere in the South Island.

Soon after, Civil Defence sent out text alerts warning of a tsunami threat and asking residents in coastal areas to evacuate immediately.

I received the message at 2.06am. Thirty-six minutes later, I was sent another message cancelling the evacuation order.

I didn't see either message until my alarm woke me up at 6am, well after any tsunami would have struck. For something to wake me up, it needs to be far louder - and stranger - than a text message.

Sunday's alert was unmissable and unmistakable. A noise that loud and that foreign would have jolted me awake immediately and had me heading straight to high ground.

Let's hope in a real emergency these alerts are just as effective.