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What Was the UK Emergency Alert Really About?

After the recent test, many people are left wondering what the point of the U K Government alert system is?

Credit: Alones/ Shutterstock

On Sunday the 23rd of April the UK Government tested the UK alert system for the first time nationwide. The idea is that a loud siren will sound on your phone when there is an emergency nearby. In reality, some people didn’t even get the alert and others couldn’t hear it! It makes you question, really, how effective is this new plan?

It must be said that this is a new trial that the government are trying to roll out, a few hiccups are bound to happen. However, this is the UK Government’s grand plan for the alert:

  • An alert will warn you if there’s a danger to life nearby
  • In an emergency, your tablet or phone will receive a notification with information about how to stay safe
  • The alert will reach everybody as the UK government doesn’t need to know your phone number (technology really is advancing!!)
  • Alert reasons may include fires, extreme weather or flooding
  • The alert will make a loud siren noise (even if the device is on silent) and vibrate for 10 seconds. It will also read out the alert

The test works by the government sending a message to all mobile phone masts. In turn, all phones connected to the mast will receive the alert. This does limit it to phones running 4G or 5G and being connected to mobile data or wifi.

Before now, most people had no idea about the alert and yet the government has been slowly testing and altering it behind the scenes for a while.

In theory, it’s a very clever system. The alerts can be targeted by geographical location and with everyone glued to their phones it’s a genius way to try and keep people informed.

The Issues the test Highlighted

Sunday’s test proved there’s a long way to go before this alert is effective and beneficial. Here’s my experience of the alert.

I was at work, in a supermarket, at the time the alert came through. Now, for some important context, my phone is an Apple phone and is on a Vodafone contract. With this in mind, 15:00 rolled around and all of us got ready for an explosion of noise from everyone’s phones in the supermarket. This just didn’t happen.

At 15:02 my phone beeped about 10 times, rather loudly but only because I had it in my pocket, and I received this notification:

UK government alert message
This is the text Apple users received. Image Credit: Emily Sinclair

The alert wasn’t read out, as was intended, and I wouldn’t say the sound was loud enough. If I was to have my phone me, like I did, then sure the alert was pretty effective. However, if it was to be the other side of the room I’m not sure I would’ve heard it. This is a key downfall in the alert system. It requires you to have your phone nearby which, granted, a lot of people do.

Some people reported not getting a notification at all, this was particularly among those who had a mobile contract with Three. On Twitter, the mobile provider confirmed that this stemmed from a “technical issue” which has been fixed. Although, as many people soon pointed out, without another test this can’t be guaranteed.

Three confirmed on Twitter that the issue has been identified and fixed.

The UK Government is planning on doing another alert test today, the 25th of April. It is likely this is following Sunday when not everyone received an alert. However, they have said, “Most mobile phones and tablets will not get a test alert”. There are no more planned nationwide tests.

Written By

Hello! I am a third year undergraduate student at the University of York studying English Literature. I am currently editor of my student publication York Vision and I have been working with Trill since 2022.

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