A new mobile alert system is to be tested that will sound an alarm on people’s phones warning them of imminent danger .
A UK-wide trial of the new government system will take place on 23 April, when everyone in the country will receive a test alert on their mobile phones.
The Government says the technology will allow more effective response efforts to public emergencies such as flooding and wildfires.
Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said: “It will revolutionise our ability to warn and inform people who are in immediate danger, and help us keep people safe. As we’ve seen in the US and elsewhere, the buzz of a phone can save a life.”
Emergency services, transport officials, and the environment agency were all consulted in developing the tool.
The US, Canada, Japan, and the Netherlands already have similar systems in place to warn people about severe weather events.
A similar warning system in Hawaii infamously caused mass hysteria during a test in 2018, when residents were accidentally sent messages warning them a ballistic missile was heading towards the islands and “this is not a drill”.
In other US states, it has also been used to warn the public of police curfews and when stay-at-home orders were issued at the start of the Covid pandemic.
What happens when you get an emergency alert on your phone?
Outside of the upcoming test, the UK Government alerts will only ever be triggered when there is an immediate risk to life.
In the rare event of an emergency situation, you’ll receive a pop-up message along with a 10-second long siren on your phone, which will sound even if it’s silent.
You’ll have to acknowledge that you’ve seen the notification before you can use any other features. The message can include telephone numbers to call in an emergency, along with links with more information about the event.
If you’re driving, you should wait to find somewhere safe to stop before attempting to read or respond to the message.
During the test on 23 April, the alert will say: “This is a test of Emergency Alerts, a new UK government service that will warn you if there’s a life-threatening emergency nearby.
“In an actual emergency, follow the instructions in the alert to keep yourself and others safe. Visit gov.uk/alerts for more information.
“This is a test. You do not need to take any action.”
In Wales, the message will also be displayed in Welsh.
It will stop automatically after 10 seconds – to remove it, users just need to acknowledge the alert and take no further action.
Can I opt out?
You can turn off emergency alerts on your phone settings at any time.
On iPhone, this is under ‘Settings’, and then ‘Notifications’ – with toggles at the bottom to turn off ‘Extreme Alerts’ and ‘Severe Alerts’.
On Android, the toggle is found emergency alerts are found under ‘Settings’, then ‘Notifications’, then ‘Wireless Emergency Alerts’.
Will the system collect personal data?
No. The system is connected to the same cell tower that a mobile phone is connected to. When an alert is triggered, all towers in the local area receive it. No specific locations or personal details from individuals are required.
The alerts will only come from the government and emergency services. No one else will be able to use or access it.
Will you be able to access it if you don’t have a smartphone?
The alerts will work on all 4G and 5G phone networks. Older “non-smart” phones won’t be included, with the 3G technology that they use being switched off next year. The government has said that people will be informed by other means if they don’t have a compatible device.