May 17, 2021

UK to launch Emergency Alerts warning service

cell broadcast, mobile, 5G
  • UK’s emergency resilience to be boosted with new cell broadcasting technology
  • People would receive an alert direct to their mobile phone where there is a risk to life, such as a flood or terror attack
  • Technology to be trialled this summer before a national rollout

People will receive an alert on their mobile phone to warn them and provide advice in the event of a serious emergency under plans being developed by the Government.

Building on the use of text messages during the pandemic, the new Emergency Alerts service would send a direct message only where there is a risk to life, either locally or nationally. This could include public health emergencies, severe floods, fires, industrial incidents and terror attacks.

Ahead of introduction a series of public trials will take place, with the first in East Suffolk on the 25th May where residents will receive a test alert message.

Should the tests prove successful the capability will be made available for use across the whole of the UK later this year.

The Paymaster General, Penny Mordaunt MP, said:

"The Emergency Alerts service will be a vital tool in helping us to better respond to emergencies, both nationally and locally. The concept was used to good effect during the pandemic when we asked people, via text message, to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This new system builds on that capability and will allow us to more quickly and effectively get life-saving messages to people across the UK."

Emergency Alerts have already been adopted by many countries. These include the USA, Netherlands, Canada, South Korea,  Japan and New Zealand, where it has been widely credited with saving lives during earthquakes.

The alerts would issue a warning, details of the impacted area if a local event, instructions about how best to respond, and a link to where people can further verify its origin and receive more information, as necessary.

By broadcasting from cell towers in the vicinity of an emergency, the alerts are secure, free to receive, and one-way. They do not reveal your location and do not collect any personal data.   Alerts can also only be sent by authorised Governmental and Emergency Services users.



Notes to Editors:

People who receive a test alert will not need to do anything – it is just a test to ensure the effectiveness of the service.

There will be localised public information campaigns ahead of each test to inform people and a nationwide public information campaign ahead of the full national launch.

About Cell Broadcasting  

Cell broadcasting uses 4G and 5G mobile network operator technology to ensure free and targeted delivery of text-based alerts to all compatible mobile devices in a defined area. Benefits of cell broadcasting over SMS messages include:  

  • Speed of delivery - After the alert is sent from the issuing authority, the public should receive the message in about 4 to 10 seconds.   
  • Targeting of messages - Emergency Alerts allow a message to be broadcast to a defined area, meaning any device in or entering that area immediately receives the message.    
  • Security - the public can be fully confident that only authorised organisations are able to send the messages.   
  • Privacy concerns - the recipients’ telephone numbers and specific locations are not known or used. No personal information is shared by the Mobile Network Operators and is validated by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).  
  • Effectiveness - the messages trigger a distinct notification on the recipient’s mobile phone which uses a loud tone and vibration that is hard to ignore and conveys urgency. The messages will give recipients clear instruction and provide a link to for further information.    
  • Future proofed - Emergency Alerts are fully supported by international ‘standards’ bodies, so the technology can be updated as new features are developed.   
  • Impact on mobile network - the resources required to send a message are minimal, creating no network congestion for mobile networks. 

What can those who receive the alert expect?  

  • Emergency Alerts are text-based messages that will be broadcast from cell towers to people’s mobile phones, detailing the emergency and actions people need to take to ensure their safety.
  • Their purpose is to help save lives in emergency situations by issuing a warning and clear instructions about how best to respond and will reduce the impact on local health and emergency services.

About Building Mobile Britain

Building Mobile Britain logo

Building Mobile Britain is a campaign created by Mobile UK seeking to work with national and local government, as well as interested industry groups to overcome the challenges we face with expanding the existing mobile networks, while also developing innovative services for customers.

See here for further information - or #BuildingMobileBritain

Media Contacts

Gareth Elliott
Head of Policy and Communications
Tel: 07887 911 076

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