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Public Emergency Alert: The Siren That Will Sound On Your Phone

At 3pm on Sunday, 23rd April 2023, a siren-like alert will be sent to all smartphone devices across the UK. The alert is testing the new UK Government public warning system.

What is the public warning system?

The public warning system is being tested by the UK Government. It lets the Government and emergency services send urgent messages to warn everyone about situations that could affect your life, health, or home in situations such as floods and fires. It may include telephone numbers or website links containing further information.

The system is free and won’t affect your phone’s battery or storage capacity.

In Wales, the message will also be displayed in Welsh.

Illustrated image of a flame of fire for public emergency alerts blog

What will happen during the test?

During the test, your phone will receive a notification; it will vibrate and make a siren-like sound, lasting about 10 seconds and then stopping automatically. The notification will appear on your screen until you acknowledge it. As this is a test, you don’t need to do anything. 

The siren will sound even if your phone is on silent, but you will not receive alerts if your device is turned off or in airplane or flight mode.

What happens if I receive a real alert in the future?

The alert notification will include details of the impacted area and instructions on keeping safe.

When you receive an emergency alert, you should:

  • Stop what you’re doing
  • Read the alert if it’s safe to do so
  • Follow the instructions on the alert

If you are driving, you should find the nearest safe space to pull up and read the notification. Do not use your mobile phone whilst driving. 

Will my privacy be affected?

The new system works by using cell broadcasting technology based on someone’s current location. 

When an alert is triggered, cell towers in the decided area will broadcast it, sending the alert to all smartphones in that area. 

The Cabinet Office says the service will not collect personal information like your name, phone number, or location. Location services do not need to be turned on to receive the alerts. 

Illustrated image of megaphone for public emergency alerts blog

Will all devices get the alert?

Emergency alerts work on all 4G and 5G phone networks used by smartphones or Android tablets.

This means they won’t work on other electronic devices such as computers, laptops, game consoles, televisions, or older phones that support 3G or earlier. 

Your tablet will not receive a notification unless you have access to cellular networks. 

I don’t have a smartphone – what do I do?

If you do not have a compatible device, you won’t receive the alert, so there’s nothing to do for this test. 

As this is just a test, you won’t be informed about the alert. However, in the future, if there was a threat to life, you would still be informed about the emergency as the emergency services and the UK government have other ways to warn you. 

How can I stop the alert?

Whilst the Government suggests that you continue to get alerts for your safety, you can turn them off if you need to. In some situations, like domestic abuse, there may be a secret phone in the house, and you need to keep its existence a secret. Search your device’s settings for emergency alerts and turn off severe and extreme ones.

On iPhone, go to ‘Settings’ and then ‘Notifications’. Toggle ‘Extreme Alerts’ and ‘Severe Alerts’ off. 

On Android, go to ‘Settings’, then ‘Notifications’, then ‘Wireless Emergency Alerts’ to toggle off emergency alerts. 

Talk to Meic

Worried and need to talk? Meic is the information, advice and advocacy helpline for children and young people across Wales. Contact Meic if you need to talk to someone about anything that’s worrying or upsetting you. It’s free, confidential and anonymous. The service is open from 8am-midnight every day, and you can contact them by phone, text, or online chat.

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