A new system that will give the Government and emergency services the capability to send an alert directly to mobiles phones when there is a risk to life has been launched.
Working with mobile broadcasting technology, the Emergency Alerts system will transform the UK’s warning and informing capability; providing a means to get urgent messages quickly to nearly 90 percent of mobile phones in a defined area; providing clear instructions about how best to respond.
The system is now ready to be tested across the country following successful tests in East Suffolk and Reading, as the Government continues to strengthen its resilience capability, making sure it offers the best possible protection against an ever-evolving range of threats.
A UK-wide alerts test will take place in the early evening of Sunday 23 April which will see people receive a test message on their mobile phones.
The alerts will only ever come from the Government or emergency services, and they will issue a warning, always include the details of the area impacted, and provide instructions about how best to respond - linking to gov.uk/alerts where people can receive further information.
Emergency 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.
Announcing the launch of the new alerts system, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Oliver Dowden MP, said:
"We are strengthening our national resilience with a new emergency alerts system, to deal with a wide range of threats - from flooding to wild fires.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 U.S. and elsewhere, the buzz of a phone can save a life".
Emergency 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, including severe flooding in England. The Government has been working closely with a range of stakeholders and partners across the UK on developing the system, including colleagues from the emergency services, transport groups and the Environment Agency.
Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, Mark Hardingham, 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.
"We’ve seen this type of system in action elsewhere across the world and we look forward to having the facility here in the UK - by working together with fire services and partners we want this system to help us to help you be as safe as you can if a crisis does hit".
Executive Director for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management at the Environment Agency, Caroline Douglass, commented:
"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.
"This year is the 70th anniversary of the 1953 east coast surge, one of the worst flood events in our recent history which saw over 300 people perish in England - while our ability to warn and inform has come on leaps and bounds since then, Emergency Alerts is a fantastic addition to our toolbox that we can use in emergency situations".
By broadcasting from cell towers in the vicinity of an emergency, the alerts are secure, free to receive, and one-way. They do not reveal anyone’s location or collect personal data. Alerts can only be sent by authorised Governmental and Emergency Services users.
Questions and Answers...
• What is an emergency alert?
An emergency alert is a free service being launched by the UK Government that will warn you about serious nearby threats to life through your mobile phone or device.
There will be a National Test Message of the system on Sunday 23 April 2023.
• What will an emergency alert look like?
Emergency Alerts will appear on your device and you will hear a loud siren-like sound for up to 10 seconds. It will appear on your device's home screen and you must acknowledge it before you can use other features.
They appear as a notification and may include telephone numbers or website links containing further information. A loud, siren-like sound and vibration will accompany the message to raise awareness of the hazard or threat.
• What shall I do when I receive the National Test Message on 23 April?
When you receive the Welcome Message you do not need to take any action. The siren will stop automatically after ten seconds. A welcome message will stay on screen until you acknowledge it, just like a ‘low battery’ warning.
• What will emergency alerts be used for?
Emergency alerts will be used to inform people about severe threats to life in particular areas, such as flooding or wildfires.
• Are emergency alerts free?
Emergency alerts are a free service provided by the UK Government.
• Will people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland receive emergency alerts?
People living in all parts of the UK will be able to receive emergency alerts.
• What should I do if I receive a real emergency alert?
When you get an alert, stop what you’re doing (when it is safe to do so) and follow the instructions in the alert. If you are driving, as when receiving any phone call or message, do not look at or touch your phone until it is safe to do so.
• Will the Government use emergency alerts to spam me?
No. Emergency alerts will only be used to warn you about an immediate threat to life.
• Does the Government use my personal data to send an emergency alert?
No. The system uses the cell tower your phone is connected to. When an alert is triggered, all towers in the area will broadcast the alert. To do this the Government does not need to know the specific location or personal data on your device.
• Will I still receive emergency alerts if I don’t have a smartphone?
Emergency alerts work on all 4G and 5G phone networks widely used by smartphones. This will not include older ‘non-smart’ phones but the 3G technology that they use is being switched off next year. If you do not have a compatible device, you’ll still be informed about an emergency as the emergency services have other ways to warn you when there is a threat to life.
• What happens if I receive an emergency alert when I am driving?
You should not read or respond to an emergency alert when you are driving or riding a vehicle. Find somewhere safe and legal to stop before picking up your phone and reading the message. If there is nowhere safe or legal to stop close by, and nobody else is in the vehicle to read the alert, tune into live radio for information until you can find somewhere safe and legal to stop.
• Will emergency alerts affect my battery life?
No. Neither emergency alerts nor having the ability to receive them will impact your phone’s battery life.
• How can I unsubscribe from emergency alerts?
You can opt out of the emergency alerts system in your phone’s settings, just search for “emergency alerts", and turn off ‘severe alerts’ and ‘extreme alerts’. You will not receive alerts if your device is turned off or in airplane mode. However, these alerts are potentially life-saving so we recommend you keep them switched on.