Government to send alerts to all UK mobiles to warn public of disasters and terrorist attacks

Oliver Dowden - ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Live News/Alamy
Oliver Dowden - ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Live News/Alamy

Every mobile phone in the country will receive emergency siren alerts from the Government to warn the public of disasters such as floods, fires and terrorist attacks under a new system being launched today.

The alerts will be sent if there is judged to be a “risk to life”, with a UK-wide test of the system to take place next month.

Under the Emergency Alerts system, the Government and emergency services will be able to send urgent messages to nearly 90 per cent of phones in a defined area.

Alerts sent via mobile broadcasting technology will appear on device home screens accompanied by a "loud siren-like sound" for up to 10 seconds. Users must acknowledge the alert before they can start using their phones again.

People who do not want to receive the alerts can opt out of them in their device settings, but the Government is urging people to remain opted in because of their “life saving potential”.

No collecting data

Ministers have assured that it will not reveal an individual’s location or collect personal data.

The system  will be used “very rarely”, the Government has said, and only in situations posing an “immediate risk” to people’s lives, with the alerts always including details on the area affected and providing instructions about how best to respond.

A UK-wide test of the system will take place on Sunday April 23, with people receiving a test message on their phones.

Oliver Dowden, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, 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 US and elsewhere, the buzz of a phone can save a life."

System used around the world

According to the Government, the system has already been used in countries including the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Japan, and has been credited with saving lives during incidents such as extreme weather events.

The system is broadcast from cell towers in the vicinity of an emergency, sending an alert that is secure, free and one way.

Live tests of the service have already taken place in East Suffolk and Reading.

Mark Hardingham, 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.

“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.”

Protecting people

Caroline Douglass, executive director for flood and coastal erosion risk management at the Environment Agency, said: “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.”