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The warnings will initially focus on the most serious weather-related events, like these floods in York
A siren-like alert will be sent to mobile phone users across the UK next month in a test of a new government public warning system.
It allows the government and emergency services to broadcast urgent messages to warn the public of life-threatening situations such as floods or wildfires.
The test is expected to take place in the early evening of Sunday April 23rd.
Phone users must acknowledge the warning before using other features on their devices.
During the test, a message appears on the home screens of people’s devices with a vibration and a loud warning tone that plays for about 10 seconds – even if the phone is on silent.
The system is based on similar schemes used in the USA, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands.
Messages would only ever come from government or emergency services and would focus first on the most serious weather-related events, with the ability to send a message to 90% of mobile users in the relevant area.
Terrorism alerts could be added to the list of potential events that would trigger a notification.
The messages include details of the affected area and instructions on how to respond.
They are only sent when there is an imminent threat to life, and many people may not receive an alert for months or years.
Users can opt out by browsing their device settings for emergency alerts, and then turning off severe and extreme alerts. However, officials say the alerts could be life-saving and advise against turning them off.
Warnings “can save lives”
The Cabinet Office says the service is safe and free to receive and does not collect personal information, such as a person’s phone number, identity or location.
The new system uses cell-broadcast technology and messages are based on a person’s current location – but location services don’t need to be turned on to get the alerts.
Because when an alarm goes off, all cell towers in a defined area will broadcast it, so the message can reach an area the size of a constituency.
The government has released a video showing how the warnings will sound.
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Court hearings have already taken place in Reading and East Suffolk. People will also be notified if they are in any of 19 other countries they are currently using.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden, a cabinet member with oversight of emergency preparedness and planning, said the technology will “revolutionize our ability to warn and inform people who are in imminent danger”.
“As we’ve seen in the US and elsewhere, a phone’s buzz can save lives,” he added.
National Fire Chiefs Council chairman Mark Hardingham said the new system would help fire and rescue services do their jobs “and help communities during emergencies”.
He said: “We have seen this type of system in action elsewhere in the world and look forward to having the facility here in the UK – through working with fire services and partners we want this system to help us to be of help to you.” as safe as possible when a crisis hits.”
The Environment Agency’s Caroline Douglas, executive director for flood and coastal erosion risk management, said the system would allow officials to communicate alerts “timely and accurately”.