Emergency phone alert: How to turn off warning messages to your mobile

At 3pm on Sunday a siren-like emergency warning was sent to mobile phones across the UK to test a new public alert system

The newly launched contact tracing app, which uses Bluetooth technology to alert users if they spend 15 minutes or more within two metres (six feet) of another user who subsequently tests positive for the nove coronavirus COVID-19, is pictured on a smartphone in London on September 24, 2020. - The British government on Thursday finally launches its troubled smartphone app to help track the coronavirus in England and Wales -- four months behind schedule and with cases once again surging. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP via Getty Images)
A nationwide test of government emergency alerts took place at 3pm on Sunday. (Getty)

Domestic violence victims were shown how to disarm a government emergency alert on their mobile phones ahead of a nationwide test on Sunday.

At 3pm, a siren-like emergency warning message was sent to 4G and 5G mobile phones across the UK to test a new public-alert system.

The message, which appeared on the home screens of mobile phones, had a piercing sound and vibrated devices for up to 10 seconds, even if a phone was on silent.

Phone users were prompted to acknowledge the alert by swiping or clicking the message before being able to continue using their device.

The system – modelled after similar schemes in the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Japan – is intended to be used in life-threatening situations including flooding and wildfires.

The scheme will initially focus on the most serious severe weather-related events, with the ability to get a message to 90% of mobile users within the relevant area in an emergency.

Users are unable to use other features on their devices unless they acknowledge the alert.

Watch: How to manage emergency alerts on your phone

Today's test coincided with major events including the London Marathon and the 2pm kick-off Premier League ties between Bournemouth and West Ham and Newcastle and Tottenham Hotspur.

Officials said they had worked with the Football Association and the marathon's organisers to make sure the impact of the test was limited.

But the plan had sparked some concern among campaigners supporting victims of domestic violence.

Domestic abuse support charity Refuge published a YouTube video advising victims how to prevent the message alerting abusers to secondary phones that they may be hiding in case of an emergency at home.

The government also warned people who were driving at the time of the alert not to attempt to switch it off, reminding motorists that it is illegal to use a hand-held device while behind the wheel.

Touching your phone while driving could result in a £200 fine and six points on your licence, while there are fears that attempting to respond to the alert while driving would result in accidents.

The official government advice was, and remains, to not respond to an alert and continue driving before it is safe and legal to stop and read the message, or to get a passenger to respond to it.

Android phone owners can disable emergency alerts by searching 'emergency alerts' in Settings, then toggling them off. (Refuge/YouTube)
Android phone owners can disable emergency alerts by searching 'emergency alerts' in Settings, then toggling them off. (Refuge/YouTube)

However, there are ways to switch off emergency alerts from reaching your phones entirely.

Android users are told to search 'emergency alert' in their phone's setting section, then use the toggles to turn off the alerts they do not want.

Apple phone owners should go to the notifications section in settings and scroll right to the end of the page where they will find an emergency alerts section where they can be disabled.

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden, whose department is in charge of managing the test, said beforehand: “We are strengthening our national resilience with a new emergency alerts system, to deal with a wide range of threats – from flooding to wildfires.

“It will revolutionise our ability to warn and inform people who are in immediate danger, and help us keep people safe.

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“As we’ve seen in the US and elsewhere, the buzz of a phone can save a life.”

People who do not wish to receive future alerts are able to opt out as detailed above.

The alerts will only ever come from the government or emergency services, and they will include the details of the area affected, and provide instructions about how best to respond.

On iPhone users should go to the bottom of the Notifications section where they can disarm alerts. (Refuge/YouTube)
On iPhone users should go to the bottom of the Notifications section where they can disarm alerts. (Refuge/YouTube)

The Cabinet Office said the alerts are secure, free to receive, and one-way, insisting they do not reveal anyone’s location or collect personal data. Ahead of Sunday's nationwide test, smaller tests had already taken place in East Suffolk and Reading.

The scheme could eventually be expanded to cover terrorist incidents, but officials acknowledged that much more information about how the alerts system operates in the UK would be needed before that could happen in response to a fast-moving attack.