The UK at long last plans to roll out an emergency alert system in 2021. Public tests will start this month and, all going well, the system will be switched on across the UK later this year.
The government plans to send alerts only when there’s a risk to life on a local or national level. Those risks include the likes of public health emergencies, severe flooding, fires, industrial incidents and terror attacks. The alert will include a warning, details about the affected area, advice on what to do and a link to a government website with more information.
The system doesn't need to know the recipients' phone numbers or specific locations. Mobile providers don't share any personal information as part of this system as the alerts are sent to all mobile devices in a specific area. When an authority (either the government or an emergency service) sends an alert, it will take between four and 10 seconds for the public to receive it.
"The Emergency Alerts service will be a vital tool in helping us to better respond to emergencies, both nationally and locally," paymaster general Penny Mordaunt said in a statement. "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."
Other countries have had such systems for years, including the US, Canada, Netherlands, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand. Alerts sent in the wake of incidents like earthquakes have helped to save lives.