Should a terror attack or a riot such as the one in Little India occur in the future, members of the public will receive an SMS alert from the Government to notify them of an unfolding emergency situation. The larger the scale of the emergency, the greater the number of people who will be notified.

This SMS public alert feature - already in use in countries such as the US, Europe, Australia, South Korea and Japan - was announced by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean on Saturday (Oct 15) at Pasir Ris West's Emergency Preparedness Day. The event was held at an open field beside Pasir Ris MRT station.

As a one-off demonstration, residents in the vicinity were alerted to not be alarmed by a mob terrorist attack that would take place at 10am as part of the event.

The SMS alert - a feature available to StarHub subscribers since August - was used by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in two incidents in a trial: The CK Building fire in Tampines on Aug 17 and the Jurong West market fire on Oct 11.

Singtel and M1 will subscribers will have to wait to get this feature, as the two telcos are working to integrate their systems with the MHA's by end 2017. When contacted, both Singtel and M1 said the development work to roll it out is underway.

The SMS alert system is set up such that both prepaid and post-paid mobile subscribers, including international travellers roaming on one of the three telco's mobile networks, will get the alerts, regardless of whether they are using a 2G, 3G or 4G phone.

When the alert is triggered, mobile users, whose last-known location falls within a radius demarcated by a MHA operations commander, will receive an SMS from the number 71250.

To verify the authenticity of the alert, the public can check the information received against other official sources, such as the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of the police or the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

The MHA said that SMSes will be sent for "major emergency situations". These include terror-related incidents such as bomb blasts and gunman attacks, and major public order incidents such as riots, and major fires or civil disasters.

The scope of the SMS alert is based on an individual's location - not on carved out zones such as those in the MHA's SGSecure app launched last month, which also sends out the same alerts.

For example, in the Jurong West blaze, a member of the public received the alert even though she was some 5km away. The alert for the CK Building fire covered an even wider range, TODAY understands.

The MHA said the SMS alert system is to ensure that members of the public are kept informed of major emergencies so that they can make informed decisions on what they can or should do to ensure their personal safety.

The system is also part of the SGSecure national movement aimed at preparing the public to deal with a terror attack.

"Just like the thermometer had become the symbol for protecting ourselves and the community during SARS, the N95 mask for the haze, and mosquito repellent for dengue and Zika, your mobile phone with the SGSecure app could become the must-have to help protect you and your loved ones in a crisis or emergency," Mr Teo said on Saturday.

Besides the SGSecure app, SMS is one of the methods in the MHA's multi-channel, multi-platform approach to send out emergency broadcast messages, in case the data network is not available. Particularly, the SMS method will be of help to some of our seniors who may not be familiar with apps, or have older 2G phones, Mr Teo said. "We still want them to be able to receive alerts," he said.

The SGSecure app has been downloaded more than 25,000 times since it appeared on Apple and Android app stores from Sept 22.

There are currently more than eight million mobile subscriptions here, with the mobile penetration rate is at 149.1 per cent as of April, according to official statistics.

Source: Government of Singapore