Pokemon Go Grandpa the most serious victim of earthquake alert glitch

A man who operates up to 72 phones at a time while playing Pokemon Go was the the most seriously affected victim of a glitch in Taiwan’s earthquake alert system, which caused 14 warnings to be sent in response to an earthquake at 1:36 am this morning, February 7.

People were awakened by the alarming audio warning only to find the warnings kept coming after the the 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck 85 kilometers off the coast of Yilan County, on Taiwan’s east coast.

The earthquake was felt as a magnitude 4 in Yilan and Miaoli counties, magnitude 3 in New Taipei City, Taoyuan, and Hsinchu. Other areas experienced a barely perceptible level 1 or 2.

Central Weather Bureau (CWB) Director-General Cheng Ming-dean (鄭明典) explained in a Facebook post that the excessive alarms were caused by a glitch. It is believed that the multiple shock waves generated by the earthquake were treated by the system as separate earthquakes, generating one alarm after another.

New Taipei City Mayor Hou You-yi (侯友宜) speaking today, Sunday, urged the CWB to improve the system, saying that the alarms were not only a sleep disturbance, but they also served to spread a feeling of insecurity.

Immediately following the alarms, traffic overloads occurred on the Internet. Popular bulletin board system PTT was unavailable, and it is believed that the problem occurred after people were woken up, and logged in to find out what was going on.

Many Internet users expressed concern about the possible effects the warnings could have had on Taiwan’s well-known “Pokemon Go Grandpa,” Chen San-yuan. At last count 71-year-old Chen had 64 smart phones, and commenters couldn’t imagine the din from so many alarms blaring at once.

Mr Chen held an impromptu press conference outside his home in Tucheng District, New Taipei City this morning and told the media that he now had a total of 72 phones. Chen was not asleep, but out and about playing Pokemon Go at the time of the earthquake. Chen said that he didn’t feel any shaking during the earthquake, but all his phones started blaring and vibrating at once.

Chen, Taiwan's Pokemon Go grandpa speaks to media
Chen speaks to media, January 7, 2021. Picture: SETN.

Chen said that he had more than 60 phones on at the time, and that it took him until around 2:00 am to turn all the alarms off.

Reporters asked Mr Chen how much he payed in phone bills every month. Chen explained that only 20 phones had actual phone numbers, and he operated the rest as Internet-only. Chen said that he paid more than NT$20,000 (US$715) per month on phone bills.

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