Red Alert app warns of imminent missile attacks in Israel

App is also used as a social media outlet; co-creator says biggest challenge is the volume of users

Red Alert: Israel is a free app for both iOS and Android that provides real-time alerts when missiles or rockets are fired into Israel. It's also become a specialized kind of social network.

With the app, launched for iOS on June 29, Americans and people of other nations can follow the fighting in Gaza and Israel and leave comments. Many of the comments have expressed sadness or anger, and used a thorough dose of profanity.

In addition to the warnings and comments, the app includes rotating clickable ads at the top of the start screen. A streaming radio feed is also available from a station based in Israel.

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Red Alert: Israel, a free app for both Android and iOS platforms, provides real time alerts of rockets and missiles fired into Israel.

During a one-hour period on Monday, rocket alerts on the app came frequently, with as many as five in an hour. More than 550 Palestinians and 27 Israelis have died in the conflict that started July 8. Israeli deaths have been reduced because of a high-tech defense shield in Israel called Iron Dome.

There are more than 300,000 active users on the Android app, another 300,000 on the iOS app and about 100,000 U.S. users on an English language version, according to Red Alert co-creator Ari Sprung in a telephone interview from Israel.

When a rocket attack is detected, an alert is sent to each cell phone and can be clicked on to leave a comment. The alert can be in the form of a vibration or a sound, which users can customize on their phones. The time and the city in Israel where the attack is expected are included.

"Nobody has told me the app has specifically saved lives, but I get calls all the time from users saying how good it is," Sprung said in the interview. "It is helpful to heavy sleepers or people in their cars who might not hear a warning siren. There are villages where they don't even have sirens where the apps is used."

As for the many comments generated for each missile warning, Sprung said it has turned into a kind of social network. "People want to learn what's happening, and to share their fears and emotions," he said. "It's not for propaganda."

Sprung, a tank commander in the Israeli Army 12 years ago, won't say precisely where he gets the information for the Red Alert notices, but told the Washington Post that the alerts come directly from military sources.

The Post quoted a teacher, Joanne Shoshani, who lives in the Jerusalem area, as saying the app is useful to know where rockets have fallen, adding, "I can also see if there is a rocket heading towards me."

According to his website, Sprung teaches an Android development course in Jerusalem and won an award from GeekTime last year for an earlier version of Red Alert. He lives in Jerusalem with his family and is employed as a senior software developer by Curiyo, an online search platform.

The ads on the app help to pay for server costs to support the app, he said. The ads on Monday were from companies including Israel Bonds, Cisco, Google and Outdoor Wood Furnace. "We have limited resources and want to make a little cash to support our service, and we're not making any money. We're doing it to help people save their lives. "

The first version of the app was written for Android two years ago. "It took us 48 hours and it was a light version done during the last war in 2012," Sprung said. "What we're using to build it was nothing too fancy."

Sprung said the biggest challenge for the apps is the volume of downloads. "The push notification has to go very fast and to very many people and we're learning how to overcome that," Sprung said. "We've been tweaking it over the past two years. There are a lot of things coming up to increase the functionality."

When asked what kinds of improvements might be included for the app in the future, Sprung declined to elaborate. "Hopefully you won't see it because there won't be another war," he said. "We hope we don't have to use it."

This article, Red Alert app warns of imminent missile attacks in Israel, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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