On Sunday April 23rd at 3PM, the government sent out a test alarm to each mobile device in the UK as a practice for events that would require for an individual to be informed.
Millions of people across the UK received the first-ever nationwide test of the government’s new emergency alert system and while the alert was scheduled for 3pm, some got it early and others did not receive a message at all! Some people in fact received the alarm 20 minutes later than the scheduled time, with many people resorting to backlash on social media aimed towards the UK government and the faultiness of the alarm.
Phone experts however have said that they are ‘not surprised’ that many people did not get the test alarm. Professor of telecommunications, Nigel Linge, said that it is not surprising the emergency alert did not work “perfectly”.
Speaking to Good Morning Britain, he said: “You can only do so much in the labaratory to see if something is going to work.
“This is why we test fire alarms in buildings when there are no fires. He added: “It is not unusual that a test of this type did not work perfectly. That is what you expect. I don’t think anyone in the mobile phone industry would be surprised that it wasn’t perfect.”
And in Wales, the government made a spelling error in the translation of the alert sent out in the Welsh language. The Cabinet Office said it would be reviewing the outcome of the UK-wide test of the new emergency alert system.
The distinct sound and vibration was accompanied by a message telling people about the service, which is designed to warn if there is a life-threatening emergency nearby. The 10-second alert was sent to every 4G and 5G device across the UK. People were told that they did not have to take action, and could swipe the message away. According to the government guidance, people would not receive alerts if their phones were turned off or in airplane mode; if they were connected to a 2G or 3G network; if they were only connected to Wi-Fi; or if their phones were not compatible.
Ministers hoped the test would get the public used to what the alerts look and sound like, should they need to be sent during any future crises. It is intended to be used in situations such as extreme weather, flooding, and fires.
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said “It really is the sound that could save your life”.
But critics have said the alerts themselves could put people’s safety at risk, including drivers who may become distracted and domestic violence victims who keep a secret phone.
Ahead of Sunday’s test, sports stadiums, theatres, and cinemas were among those planning how to guard against disruption when it went off. There are ways of switching off the alarm from your device, but of course, this is not recommended. It means whoever sends an alert does not need your number, so it’s not something you need to reply to, nor will you receive a voicemail if you miss it. No location or other data will be collected, either.
It also means alerts could be sent to tablets and smartwatches on their own data plans.
Anyone in the range of a mast will receive an alert, and they can be tuned based on geography – for example, Manchester residents would not need an alert about life-threatening flooding in Cornwall.
Although the test alarm did leave many people across the UK scratching their heads and concerned, the UK government are working on a solution to help develop this technology for the next time round or when it will be needed for real. Ministers have insisted alerts will only be sent in “life-threatening” situations. So once the testing period of the alarm is complete, if you are to receive one of these alarms, please react immediately.