UK: All mobile phones to get siren-like alert next month as govt tests new public warning system

All mobile phones across the United Kingdom (UK) will get a siren-like alert next month as the government tests a new public warning system. According to an official statement on Sunday (March 19), the “Emergency Alerts service is launched and is in operation from today, and the UK-wide alerts test will take place on the evening of April 23.”

“The Emergency Alerts system will transform the UK’s warning and informing capability; providing a means to get urgent messages quickly to nearly 90 per cent of mobile phones in a defined area; providing clear instructions about how best to respond,” the statement said. 

It added the system is now ready to be tested across the country following successful tests in East Suffolk and Reading and will help authorities warn people about life-threatening events. The government added that the alerts will only come from government or emergency services and they will issue a warning, always including details of the area impacted, and provide instructions about how best to respond. 

‘Alerts to be used very rarely’

The government highlighted that these alerts will be used very rarely, only being sent where there is an immediate risk to people’s lives, so people may not receive an alert for months or even years.

“The service has already been used successfully in a number of other countries, including the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Japan, where it has been widely credited with saving lives, for example, during severe weather events. In the UK, alerts could be used to tell residents of villages being encroached by wildfires, or of severe flooding,” the statement added. 

These alerts will be used across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and their initial use will focus on the most serious severe weather-related incidents. The government has been working closely with a range of stakeholders and partners across the UK on developing the system, including officials from emergency services, transport groups, and the Environment Agency.

These alerts will also be secure, free to receive, and one-way. They will not reveal anyone’s location or collect personal information. They can only be sent by authorised governmental and emergency services users. 

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Oliver Dowden, said that the Emergency Alerts system would revolutionise the government’s ability to warn and inform people who are in immediate danger. 

Mark Hardingham, the chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said, “Together with every fire and rescue service in the country, I’m looking forward to having Emergency Alerts available to help us to do our jobs and to help communities in the event of emergencies.”

Meanwhile, Caroline Douglass, the executive Director for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management at the Environment Agency, said that the system is a fantastic addition to the agency’s toolbox that can be used in emergencies. 

“Being able to communicate warnings in a timely and accurate manner during incidents is really important to help people take action to protect themselves, their families, and their neighbours,” Douglass said. 

(With inputs from agencies)


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