Science & Tech

Your smartphone will make a ‘loud siren-like sound’ next month – here’s why

Listen to what the government emergency alarm sent to phones will sound like

All UK smartphones will receive a test emergency alert next month, as the UK government finally launches its new, free Emergency Alerts service from today.

The system was trialled in East Suffolk and Reading in 2021, but is now online as a way to reach “nearly 90 per cent of mobile phones in a defined area” nationwide, with the test message being sent to all smartphones with access to 4G and 5G networks on 23 April.

While a “loud siren-like sound” will be played from iPhone and Android phones along with a vibration for up to 10 seconds (even if it’s on silent), a message will remain on its home screen until it’s acknowledged – and only then can you regain access to other features on your phone.

Oliver Dowden MP, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said: “We are strengthening our national resilience with a new emergency alerts system, to deal with a wide range of threats – from flooding to wildfires.

“It will revolutionise our ability to warn and inform people who are in immediate danger, and help keep us keep people safe. As we’ve seen in the US and elsewhere, the buzz of a phone can save a life.”

Rather helpfully, the Cabinet Office shared a tweet on Sunday detailing what we can expect to receive on our phones next month:

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The service has already received a mixed reaction from Twitter users – including mishearing the ringtone; concerns this could put those experiencing domestic violence at risk; and the fact the alert will happen on the same day as the London Marathon:

Oh, and naturally, some are having a field day over what this means in terms of government access to our phones and “propaganda”:

Thankfully, the government anticipated this nonsense and in a frequently asked questions document attached to the news release, they confirmed the alerts will not be used to “spam” individuals.

“Emergency alerts will only be used to warn you about an immediate threat to life,” they said.

On whether the system will use the personal data of smartphone users, the document continues: “No. The system uses the cell tower your phone is connected to. When an alert is triggered, all towers in the area will broadcast the alert.

“To do this the government does not need to know the specific location or personal data on your device.”

However, if for whatever reason you want or need to turn off the alerts, you can do so by toggling off ‘emergency alerts’ in your phone’s settings:

The government has also said the alerts won’t work on phones which are Wi-Fi only, turned off or are in airplane mode, connected to a 2G or 3G network or “not compatible” (in other words, you don’t have an iPhone running on iOS 14.5 or later, or an Android phone or tablet operating on Android 11 or later).

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