emergency alert smartphone

Terror alert system for mobile phones still not operational, government blamed

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Rollout of a terror alert system that would send blanket warnings to everyone in an area affected by an attack has been delayed, prompting criticism from Labour Peer Lord Harris of Haringey.

Harris said that successful trials of the emergency notification technology had been undertaken as far back as 2013 and should be implemented as soon as possible. Tory frontbencher Lord Young of Cookham said an initial analysis of the system, described as the 999 scheme in reverse, was due to be published next month.

But pressing the government, Lord Harris said: “Why is it taking so long to implement a scheme which could potentially save lives by alerting people to an emergency and the advice from the emergency services?”

Insisting the government was taking the issue seriously, Lord Young said: “I agree with him that there is a real potential to reduce harm to people, to mitigate damage to property, if we make progress with a national alerting scheme. But there are some real issues - there are some technical issues, some political issues and some administrative issues - before we can make progress with the scheme.”

“Basically, what we are looking at is the reverse of a 999 scheme, where instead of the citizen telephoning the emergency services and asking for help, the emergency services contact the citizen and then give the citizen advice.”

Lord Young continued: “Progress is now being made... we do think this scheme has potential and we are working it up.”

Labour Leader in the House of Lords, Baroness Smith of Basildon, said the system could be used to allay fears caused by false alarms, such as the mass panic sparked in part of London's West End last year.

Lord Young pointed out the alerts could have been used in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning to send specific advice to people who had been in the area at the time.

On the issues facing the scheme, Lord Young said: “There is the issue of whether somebody should have the right to send a message to somebody on their mobile phone whether or not they want to receive it.

“There are other issues about who would be in control of the system. The system the government is looking at is not one that you would have to opt in. The system we are looking at is one that you would get one [message] automatically.”

Last year MPs were warned that delays to a new radio system for emergency services, which is due to be installed by 2019, could cost taxpayers £475 million a year. 

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