Brian Sims

Government unveils plans for life-saving public Emergency Alerts system

AN ALL-new system that will afford the Government and the Emergency Services the capability to send an alert directly to mobile phones when there’s a risk posed to life has been unveiled.

Working with mobile broadcasting technology, the new Emergency Alerts system will “transform” the UK’s warning and informing capability, providing a means to send urgent messages rapidly to circa 90% of mobile phones in a defined area and providing clear instructions on how best to respond.

The system is now ready to be tested across the country following successful tests in East Suffolk and Reading as the Government continues to strengthen the nation’s resilience capability, making sure it offers the best possible protection against what is now an ever-evolving range of threats.

A UK-wide alerts test will take place in the early evening of Sunday 23 April, which will see individuals receive a test message on their mobile phones.

The alerts will only ever emanate from the Government or the Emergency Services. Those alerts will issue a warning, always include the details of the area impacted and provide instructions about how best to respond, duly linking to GOV.UK/alerts where people can receive further information.

Emergency Alerts will be used very rarely and will only be sent where there is an immediate risk posed to people’s lives. On that basis, individuals may not receive an alert for months or even years.

The Emergency Alerts service has already been used successfully in a number of other countries, among them the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Japan, where it has been widely credited with saving lives, for example, during severe weather events. Here in the UK, the Emergency Alerts system could be used to inform residents of villages being encroached by wildfires or of severe flooding.

Strengthening national resilience

Announcing the launch of the new Emergency Alerts system, Oliver Dowden MP (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) observed: “We are strengthening our national resilience with a new Emergency Alerts system in order to deal with a wide range of threats, from flooding through to wildfires. It will revolutionise our ability to warn and inform people who are in immediate danger and help us to keep people safe.”

Emergency Alerts will be used across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Their initial use will focus on the most serious severe weather-related incidents, including severe flooding in England.

The Government has been working closely with a range of stakeholders and partners across the UK on developing the system, including colleagues from the Emergency Services, transport groups and the Environment Agency.

Mark Hardingham, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, noted: “Together with every Fire and Rescue Service in the country, I’m looking forward to having Emergency Alerts available to help us to do our jobs and assist communities in the event of emergencies. We’ve seen this type of system in action elsewhere across the world and we look forward to having the facility here in the UK. By working together with Fire and Rescue Services and partner organisations, we want this system to help us to help members of the public be as safe as they can be if a crisis does occur.”

Addition to the toolbox

Caroline Douglass, executive director for flood and coastal erosion risk management at the Environment Agency, explained: “Being able to communicate warnings in a timely and accurate manner during incidents is really important in helping people to take action to protect themselves, their families and their neighbours.”

Douglass continued: “This year is the 70th Anniversary of the 1953 east coast surge, one of the worst flooding events in our recent history, which saw over 300 people perish in England. While our ability to warn and inform has come on leaps and bounds since then, the Emergency Alerts system represents a fantastic addition to the toolbox that we can use in emergency situations.”

By broadcasting from cell towers in the vicinity of an incident, the Emergency Alerts system is secure, free to receive and one-way. Alerts do not reveal anyone’s location or collect personal data.  Alerts can only be sent by authorised Government and Emergency Services users.

Successful live tests of the service have already taken place in East Suffolk and Reading.

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