Public address system loudspeaker

Emergency terror alert system will trigger siren from mobiles

Image credit: Oleg Laptev | Unsplash

An emergency alert system to make the public aware of such emergencies as terrorist incidents and severe flooding has been tested by the UK government, initiating a siren sound on a small number of selected smartphones.

The government’s new warning signal pings smartphones and tablets with a message that may be read and a loud siren-like ring, even if the device is set on silent. It is designed to notify people if there is a danger to life nearby from incidents such as flooding, fires, explosions, terrorism or public health emergencies.

The government had said there was a “small chance” that Android handset owners across the UK might receive a test alert between 1pm and 2pm this afternoon (Tuesday June 22).

Another test is due to take place next week for both iPhone and Android devices, which will be limited to people situated in Reading, Berkshire only.

“This is a mobile network operator test of the Emergency Alerts service,” the alert read. “You do not need to take any action. To find out more, search for”

The system is expected to launch nationwide at some point this summer, providing information and advice to any areas affected by a sufficiently important incident. The warnings are broadcast from masts to every compatible mobile phone or tablet in range, based on a person’s current location.

Other countries, such as the US, already use similar technology to make people aware of imminent danger from threats such as tornadoes, and the US has also used it in some states for updates about the coronavirus pandemic.

The UK government does not need an individual’s phone number to send the alert and has assured the public that no data will be collected or shared. Alerts will not be received if the device is turned off or in aeroplane mode and users can also opt to block them within the settings.

The UK is looking to increase its cyber defence capabilities, in light of growing threats from both private and state-sponsored bad actors. In March, following an integrated review of foreign, defence, security and development policy, it was announced that the cyber defence plan would include a northern ‘cyber corridor’ and that the government was committed to a “full spectrum” approach to cyber defence.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) announced that it wants to hire 300 scientists to help it combat cyber crime and other threats from overseas, following a National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) warning the previous day about rising ransomware attacks against the UK government and businesses.

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