Everything You Need To Know About The Emergency Alerts System In The UK
The UK is testing its new mobile phone “emergency alerts” system this month, which will see millions of phones across the country emitting a loud alarm warning and vibration. Even if your mobile phone is on silent, your phone will beep and vibrate when the message appears.
To find out more about why the emergency alerts system is taking place, when it’s happening, how it works and who it can affect, carry on reading our guide for everything you need to know!
When It’s Happening?
The Emergency Alerts System is taking place on Sunday 23rd April at 3pm, with all 4G and 5G phones in the UK making a beeping sound and vibrating with a message for up to 10 seconds, even if they are switched to silent.
At first, the test of a new emergency alert system from the government was planned for the early evening but it has been moved forward on the same date due to the FA Cup semi-final, which kicks off at 4.30pm.
Whilst the alert system does coincide with other events on St George’s Day including the London Marathon, it’s only a 10 second period, which in the future, could be the difference between a life and death situation in certain cases.
Why Is It Happening?
The government has stated they would use the emergency alert scheme “in a defined area when there is an imminent risk to life”, including severe flooding, fires, extreme weather or possible terror attacks.
The first time this alert is happening is a just test so don’t worry, however, in the future it could be used to let you know about a real emergency which is taking place.
Oliver Dowden, who is the Cabinet Office minister in charge of the emergency alert system, has described it as “the sound that could save your life”.
In this digital age, we all use our mobile phones to keep in touch with family and friends, keep up to date with current affairs, to share moments on social media, and now our devices can essentially save our lives in times of crisis, thanks to this phone alert system.
Similar systems like the one being tested within the UK this month have been carried out successfully across the world where there has been a threat to life, including due to wildfires or flash floods.
Some countries who use a similar emergency system which shows up on mobile devices include the USA, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands to name a few.
How It Works?
On April 23rd, it is expected that around 90% of mobile phones in the UK are expected to receive the test alert – those are the devices which use 4G and 5G. People who have older mobile phones, will have to be kept informed of emergency situations through different channels.
Only the government or emergency services will be able to send out emergency alert systems, and they do not track your location, nor do they need your phone number or collect personal data to send them.
In the future, after the system has been tested across the country, you will receive emergency alerts based on your current location, but you do not need to turn on location services for this to happen.
What To Do?
For the test, you do not need to take any action as the sound and vibration will stop automatically after 10 seconds. When the test goes off, you will need to swipe the message to clear or hit the “OK” button to carry on using your device after the 10 second period.
The emergency alerts system sound may be different on each device, however the government has stated it will make a loud siren sound even if your phone or tablet is set to silent.
If your mobile phone is turned off at 3pm on April 23rd, you will not receive the emergency alert system.
During a real life emergency, the alert system will inform mobile phone users where the emergency is, and what they need to do in response.
Who Will It Affect?
The positive impacts of the emergency alerts system are substantial; it can be lifesaving in real life emergencies as people will receive a message with advice about how to stay safe or when to evacuate.
However, despite the alert being designed to keep people safe, it could do the opposite for certain groups of people and land them in danger. Find out more about this within our next section.
Despite the undeniable positives of an emergency alert system linked directly to our phone devices, there are still some potential issues to consider.
Domestic violence campaigners have stated the test could reveal hidden phones which could be dangerous for people in abusive relationships.
As mentioned above, the siren test will activate phones even if they’re on silent, rather than turned off, which could signal the existence of a secret secondary phone to an abuser.
For those who want to keep their phones concealed or opt out of the system for another reason, you can change your device settings or turn off your device before the test takes place.
Regardless of whether you have an Android device or iPhone, your mobile settings will have an Emergency Alerts section, which should be under Notifications.
Within this section you can select which alerts you want to turn on or off, we have highlighted below what the settings look like on an iPhone.
After clicking on Notifications, you can scroll down and turn emergency alerts on or off, as shown below.
Refuge, a leading UK charity providing specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic violence, have also put together a video on YouTube with instructions on how to turn off the emergency alerts on both Androids and iPhones.
For those who may be driving a vehicle or riding a bike when the emergency alert goes off on April 23rd, you should continue to focus on the road and not respond to the noise or attempt to use a hand-held device.
If you feel you may be distracted by the alert whilst behind the wheel, you can turn off your phone or opt out of the system in your device settings (as we mentioned earlier).
The government has stated that the actual emergency alerts are only to be used where there is an immediate risk to life, so you may not receive an alert for a long period of time after the test has taken place, unless a crisis does occur.
Remember, this government emergency alert is just a national test, so there is nothing to worry about, it’s just so we know what an alert looks and sounds like for future situations. Unless there is an emergency, the alert shouldn’t affect you!