The statement made by Penny Mordaunt, the Paymaster General, in the House of Commons on 17 May 2021.
The Government will introduce a new emergency alerts service across the UK later this summer as part of the Government’s continued work to improve our resilience in the event of emergencies. Emergency alerts would inform people of serious emergencies, either nationally or in their local area, which could affect them by broadcasting information directly to their mobile phones.
Emergency alerts would only be used to warn and inform the public in emergency situations when lives are at risk. It is anticipated that this could include public health emergencies, severe floods, fires, industrial incidents and terror attacks.
Messages will always include details of the impacted area, situation, actions for people to take and a link to further information not transmittable in the alert message such as maps and images. This capability is already used around the world in countries such as the United States, New Zealand and Canada, and has been shown to help save lives.
Ahead of introduction, the Government are working in partnership with the devolved Administrations to ensure that all relevant emergency responders across the United Kingdom have access to the capability.
The Government are also working with the charity and voluntary sector to ensure that the needs of the elderly, vulnerable, young people and those with disabilities are fully considered as the new service is delivered.
The new service will be secure. Alerts can only be sent by authorised governmental and emergency services users. Emergency alerts cause the phone to vibrate and emit a unique noise making them difficult to ignore and to mimic or spoof. Emergency alerts are broadcast from cell towers in the vicinity of an emergency, meaning that no personal data is collected and the service will never be used for commercial purposes. As part of its development, there will be a series of public trials of the system where we will send out live test alerts to the phones of people in Suffolk (25 May 2021) and Reading (15 June 2021).
Should the public trials prove successful, the Government will send out a national welcome message to the whole of the UK later this year.
During the pandemic, the Government communicated direct to the public via text message when we asked people to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This new alert builds on that capability, but by broadcasting from cell towers, the new emergency alerts messages would be quicker and delivered instantaneously to all recipients.
Public testing will allow us to check the effectiveness of the system and ensure that members of the public are familiar with the new system and know what to do should they receive an alert in future. There will be localised public information campaigns ahead of each test to inform people about the look and feel of the alert and what they should do when they receive it. There will also be a nationwide public information campaign ahead of the full national launch of this new capability.
To ensure that as many people as possible receive emergency alerts in future, we would encourage people to make sure that their phones have the latest manufacturer’s software updates downloaded.