By Emma Dooney
The UK government is rolling out a test period this summer for a new emergency alerts service—meaning you might experience an unexpected siren on your mobile phone someday soon.
The trial phase, which launched yesterday (22 June), aims to test out a system that will warn people across the country of nearby danger or problems. When it finally goes live, the service will “tell you what to do if there’s a life-threatening event nearby".
If you receive an alert during this mock period, don't panic—no action is required. A siren will ring for approximately 10 seconds and a text notification from the UK government will be issued. The message may also be read out by an automated voice, which will enhance the clarity of the alert. Both iPhone and Android phones/tablets will be included in the testing.
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Where in the UK will the emergency alerts be issued?
This trial phase is only being carried out in designated districts, which means you are more likely to hear an alert if you live in or are traveling through a certain area. The next drill will take place in Reading, Berkshire, between 1 and 2 pm on Tuesday, 29 June. Before you set a reminder to mute your device for that hour, it's worth remembering that the service applies even to phones in silent mode.
Why are the emergency alerts being issued?
The reasons for the alerts vary but can include warnings about fires, explosions, terrorist attacks, flooding, and public health emergencies. While it may be new to the UK, the use of such technology has been underway in other countries for years. The US launched its own emergency service, the Wireless Emergency Alerts, back in 2012, and has since distributed 56,000 warnings to the public of nearby dangers. It was even used during the COVID-19 pandemic to notify people of rising cases and advise them to take the necessary precautions.
Does the UK government need my phone number to send me the emergency alert?
No—the UK government does not need your phone number to issue one of these emergency alerts. Instead, they are emitted from mobile phone masts to all surrounding devices and received by the user free of charge. No data on the individual is collected in this process.
How do I opt out of emergency alerts?
While the introduction of this service has received little resistance, a handful of critics have raised concerns about the effects of the siren on people with sensitivities to sound. The abrupt, loud noise can be very distressing for neurologically atypical individuals, causing feelings of panic and even pain in some folks.
One Twitter user shared instructions on how those with autism or sensory issues can opt out of the emergency alerts.
For anyone autistic who is worried about the UK government testing the Emergency Alert system tomorrow below are pictures of where I found the settings for it on my android phone through the text messages function ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/fvbTySiQhEJune 21, 2021
The Kent Police also urged locals to notify anyone who may be vulnerable, such as people with disabilities or older people, about the test phase.
A UK test of the emergency alert system is due today with some mobiles and tablets emitting loud siren and message advising it is a test. Please let anyone vulnerable or who may be frightened know. DW pic.twitter.com/vpT0tSS8yQJune 22, 2021
When the system does go live later this summer, people will only be able to opt-out of certain warnings. There will be no way to opt-out of emergency alerts for severe situations, such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters.
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