Emergency alerts set to be released on our phones this year

We can all relate to the slight twinge of panic we feel when we see certain notifications pop up on our phones. Whether you’ve signed up to breaking news alerts or a person you’ve been avoiding has sent you a message, our access to instant information and contact is both a wonderful and stressful thing. Don’t even get us started on those Covid exposure alerts and the ‘pingdemic’.

As it happens, a new type of emergency phone alert is expected to be launched by the UK government later this year. People can expect to receive a loud, siren-like sound notification on their mobile phones, warning of emergencies where there is a threat to life. This could be anything from an explosion, to severe flooding, to a public health crisis.

Emergency phone alert
Cabinet Office

According to the government website, people will receive alerts based on their location at the time – not where they live, work, or spend most of their time. It explains the emergency alerts ‘work like a radio broadcast’, so the emergency services and the government don’t need your phone number to send you an alert and there’s nothing to sign up to in order to receive it.

The government has insisted ‘no one will collect or share data about you, your device or your location when you receive an alert.’ And you can also opt out of some emergency alerts, but it’s advised to ‘keep them switched on for your own safety’.

Emergency phone alert
Cabinet Office

The emergency alerts will only work if a phone is switched on and if it has the latest software updates. That means iPhones need to have iOS 14.5 or later installed. Android phones and tablets need to be Android 11 or later. Devices with older software, that are connected to a 2G or 3G network, or on aeroplane mode, will not receive the alerts.

The new technology has been developed by the government, and comes to light after Russian president Vladimir Putin launched a war on Ukraine. But the emergency phone alerts for the UK were actually trialed in Reading and Berkshire in June 2021, meaning they have been in the pipeline for some time.

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