Sun, Jul 20, 2014 - Page 14 News List

As Gaza rockets explode, so do Israeli missile alert app downloads

By Daphne Rousseau  /  AFP, JERUSALEM

The barrage of rockets from Gaza triggers not just a rush for shelters, but also sends Israelis scrambling to download applications to help cope with the frequent alerts.

With nearly half a million downloads, the “Red Alert” smartphone application has become an everyday essential for Israelis since July 8: The start of Israel’s military operation to stop Palestinian rocket fire brought a paradoxically sharp increase in attacks.

Since then, Hamas militants have fired more than 1,200 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel, which has in turn bombed more than 1,750 targets inside the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army said on Wednesday.

The Red Alert app is meant to complement other means of warning, alongside the real-time alerts broadcast on national radio channels, as well as the air raid sirens in every Israeli city, town and village. It gives people who are not close to a radio, or who are unable to hear a siren, an extra warning and allows people in one location to know what is happening to friends and family elsewhere in the country.

Yet Sophie Taieb, 37, manager of a Web community in Tel Aviv, says that coming on top of the mainstream warnings, the application just adds to the tension.

“When it sounds to signal an alert in Tel Aviv, I’m already on the stairs trying to run to shelter,” she said, having already heard the local sirens. “I hesitate to have it turned on because it makes me terribly anxious.”

Another Israeli application being used as an alert system is “Yo!” which raised US$1 million in startup money at the end of last month, started out as “a joke app” the Times Of Israel news site said.

It has the cryptic function of sending the word “yo!” which the recipient is meant to know means the caller is perhaps waiting at a rendezvous, outside in the car or maybe wants to be called back.

Israelis have customized it to pass on warnings from other sources, for example by sending the message “Yo!AlertJerusalem.”

The application “Secure Spaces” offers an interactive Google Inc map of the nearest public shelters, which can often be concrete blocks at the side of the street or an underground car park.

Kidnap rescue app “NowForce SOS” was downloaded nearly 100,000 times after last month’s abduction and murder of three young Israelis hitchhiking in the occupied West Bank, allegedly by Palestinian militants.

Following the discovery of their bodies in a shallow grave, a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped and burned to death in what police say was a revenge attack by Jewish extremists.

Launched six years ago in Hebrew and English, an Arabic-language version is currently in the works.

“The user, who must register in advance on our Web site, opens the application and clicks on the SOS button,” developer Dov Maisel said. “His location is plotted by GPS and in less than three minutes a rescue team can be on the scene.”

These applications have been developed by civilians and Israelis are likely to ask what the authorities are doing in the field in a country known for its high-tech startups and slick information technology products.

Asked about the development of military applications to help the public in times of war, an Israeli army spokesman told reporters that “the project is in progress,” without elaborating.

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