Siren-like emergency warning messages will be sent by the government to mobile phone users across the UK next month to test a new public alert system.

Phone users will be unable to use other features on their devices unless they acknowledge the alert, due to be sent on Sunday April 23.

The system – modeled after similar schemes in the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Japan – is intended for use in life-threatening situations including floods and wildfires.

Alerts will appear on people’s phone home screens on St George’s Day, with loud alert sounds and vibrations.

The plan will initially focus on the most severe weather-related events, with the ability to reach 90% of mobile users in the affected area in an emergency.

Oliver Dowden, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said: “We are strengthening our national resilience with a new emergency alert system, to deal with a wide range of threats, from floods to bushfires.

“It will revolutionize our ability to warn and notify people who are in immediate danger, and help keep people safe.

“As we’ve seen in America and elsewhere, the buzz of a phone can save lives.”

People who don’t want to receive alerts will be able to opt out in their device settings, but officials expect the life-saving potential of the messages to mean users continue to receive them.

Alerts will only come from the government or emergency services, and they will include details of the affected area, and provide instructions on how best to respond.

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The Cabinet Office says the alerts are secure, free to receive and one-way, stressing that they do not reveal anyone’s location or collect personal data.

The service has been trialled in East Suffolk and Reading.

The scheme could eventually be expanded to cover terrorist incidents, but officials acknowledged that more information is needed on how the alert system in Britain works before it can respond to a fast-moving attack.

Mark Hardingham, chairman of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said: “Along with every fire and rescue service in the country, I look forward to doing our job to provide emergency alerts and help communities in emergencies.

“We’ve seen this type of system in action elsewhere around the world and we’re looking forward to the facility here in the UK – working with the fire service and partners, we want this system to help us help you stay safe. If a crisis strikes, you can.”

The Environment Agency’s Caroline Douglas, Executive Director for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management, said: “Being able to communicate timely and accurate warnings of events is vital to helping people take action to protect themselves, their families and their neighbourhoods.”


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