The UK government recently conducted a nationwide test of their new public alert system, designed to warn citizens about any nearby life-threatening emergency. Tens of millions of mobile phone users received a message and loud alarm during the test. The alarm lasted for about 10 seconds and was sent a minute earlier than the advertised time of 3 pm on Sunday. The government hopes that this test will make the public familiar with what the alerts look and sound like, in case they need to be sent during any future crises. The system aims to warn people about extreme weather, flooding, and fires.
How the System Works and Future Plans
The alert system broadcasts emergency alerts via mobile phone masts and works on all 4G and 5G networks. Unlike the government’s previous method of sending SMS messages directly to phone numbers, the alert system does not require your phone number. Hence, it is not something that you need to reply to or receive a voicemail if you miss it. No location or other data will be collected, and alerts could be sent to tablets and smartwatches on their own data plans. Anyone within the range of a mast will receive an alert, and the system can be tuned based on geography. The government has insisted that alerts will only be sent in “life-threatening” situations.
Critics have expressed concerns that the alerts could distract drivers and pose a risk to domestic violence victims who keep a secret phone. However, the authorities hope that many will choose to keep their phones on, and people who do not wish to receive alerts can opt-out in their device settings, switch off their phones or put them in flight mode.
In recent years, public warning systems have become increasingly important for governments, especially during pandemics and climate-related emergencies. The EU has introduced a directive requiring member states to have a phone-based public warning system. Overall, the UK government’s new public alert system aims to make people more aware and prepared for potential emergencies, with the hope that the sound and vibration of the alarm could save lives.
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