Floods, storm surges, bushfires or industrial gas leaks could lead Britons to send emergency messages on their mobile phones under the UK’s new warning system.
Messages would urge locals to take specific measures, such as preparing for evacuation, if they are deemed to be in danger.
The rollout of the government’s new emergency alert system – which will replicate similar schemes in the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Japan – will continue this weekend with a trial across the UK.
As a result, millions of Britons will receive a test message at 3 p.m. on Sunday.
In the first months of the emergency warning system, the government and emergency services will focus on sending out warnings related to extreme weather or flooding.
It could later be expanded to include reports of escaped dangerous prisoners or cases of child abduction.
But there are no plans to use the emergency warning system to warn of marauding terror attacks, such as the 2017 London Bridge attack.
In a UK trial, millions of Britons will receive a test message on their mobile phones at 3pm on Sunday
In the first months of the emergency warning system, the government and emergency services will focus on sending warnings related to extreme weather or flooding
Alerts can also be sent to warn of wildfires, such as those during last summer’s heat wave
During Sunday’s nationwide trial, those with 4G and 5G-enabled phones will see a message appear on their home screens on St. George’s Day.
It is accompanied by sound and vibration for up to 10 seconds, even if your phone is on silent.
The message reads: ‘This is a test of Emergency Alerts, a new UK government service that will alert you if there is a life-threatening emergency nearby.
“In a real emergency, follow the instructions in the alarm to keep yourself and others safe. Visit gov.uk/alerts for more information.
‘This is a test. You don’t need to take any action.’
Phone users will be prompted to swipe away the message or click “OK” on their home screen before continuing to use their device.
Drivers are advised not to look at or touch their phone until it is safe, just like when receiving a call or message.
About 20 different countries already have emergency warning systems.
The UK’s system will be overseen by the government’s COBRA emergency unit, sending messages to large numbers of people to be signed by ministers.
While messages can be sent to the entire UK population, they can also be sent to targeted local groups.
Test messages have already been sent to locals in East Suffolk and Reading, Berkshire.
In addition to flooding or extreme weather, alerts can also be sent to warn of wildfires — such as those during last summer’s heat wave, nuclear power plant emergencies, or leaks from other industrial facilities.
The system would be used to urge people to take specific measures, such as going indoors and closing all doors and windows in the event of an industrial gas leak, or preparing for evacuation in the event of a storm surge in coastal areas.
Warnings are issued only in situations where they are deemed necessary to protect life or prevent serious damage or significant damage to property.
Officials are aware that sending too many alerts could cause people to become apathetic to the system and perhaps ignore emergency advisories in the future.
In addition to the pilot phase of the program, which will last several months and focuses on flooding and extreme weather conditions, the use of warnings could be expanded later.
The Cabinet Office will talk to the police and other emergency services about the best use of alerts in the event of terrorist attacks, for example.
But they have ruled out the use of warnings during emergencies, such as the 2017 London Bridge attack, in which terrorists stabbed people in and around restaurants and pubs.
The current advice for people involved in a marauding terror attack is ‘run, hide and tell’, with fears that sending an emergency alert could make attackers aware of the location of someone hiding.
Officials are also concerned about the complication of giving specific advice during such an attack, when terrorists can quickly move from one area to another.
But if a car bomb is discovered and emergency services need to evacuate a local area, an alarm can be issued.
Officials have ruled out the use of alerts during emergencies such as the 2017 London Bridge marauding terror attack
Oliver Dowden, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, hailed the new system as “an essential tool for keeping the public safe in life-threatening emergencies”
Those who don’t want to receive Sunday’s test message can put their phones in airplane mode, while the warning messages can be turned off completely through your phone’s settings.
Government officials have held discussions with motorists, domestic violence organizations and charities for the visually impaired or visually impaired about the potential problems with the emergency warning system.
Domestic violence campaigners have warned that the test could put people at risk by revealing the location of secret phones hidden by those at risk.
Officials stressed that it’s easy to opt out of the system if people want to keep their phones hidden, either by disabling emergency alerts in their settings or by turning off the phone during the test.
Emergency advisories would continue to be issued by the government through TV, radio stations and other local media, with the new warning system being just one part of its ‘warn and inform’ strategy.
The St George’s Day test coincides with major events including the London Marathon and the 2pm Premier League kick-off between Bournemouth and West Ham and Newcastle and Tottenham Hotspur.
Officials said they have worked with the Football Association and marathon organizers to ensure the impact of the test will be limited.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden said: ‘This Sunday at 3pm we will conduct a nationwide test of our new Emergency Alerts system.
“Getting this system up and running gives us an essential tool to keep the public safe in life-threatening emergencies. It may be the sound that saves your life.’