This Is Not a Drill: Emergency Cellphone Alerts at the Games Become Annoying

“We were scared in the beginning,” Francesca Bettrone, a long-track speedskater from Italy, said. “I still don’t know what they say.”

There have been at least 14 emergency alerts sent to cellphones over the past week, and those around the Olympic Park here received eight separate, bleating alerts on Wednesday alone.

After the fifth or sixth alert on Wednesday (it was easy to lose count), a couple of strangers waiting in line for food at the speedskating arena began trading tips on how to alter the settings on their iPhones to block the emergency notifications.

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There were brisk winds in the Gangneung, South Korea, area, where several Winter Olympic events are, but was an emergency cellphone alert necessary?

Credit
John Sibley/Reuters

They could have simply followed the lead of Marten Liiv, a speedskater from Jogeva, Estonia, who never purchased an international data plan for his phone.

“I’ve heard all about them, but I don’t get them,” Liiv said with a shrug. “I’m lucky, maybe.”

An email to the Pyeongchang Olympics Organizing Committee seeking a response to whether they had planned for the stir the alerts have caused was not immediately answered.

It hasn’t helped that phone alerts, and the prospective scary message they could be carrying, had been on people’s minds after a mistaken text alert last month in Hawaii about an inbound ballistic missile.

With nuclear tension related to North Korea still running high on the peninsula, some athletes said the emergency notifications had sent their imaginations into overdrive.

“It was a little bit like, What is this?” Thomas Ulsrud, a Norwegian curler, said about an alert he received this week in the athletes’ village. “We’re in the same building as the North Koreans, so it was like, What is going on here now?”


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