UK government building mobile emergency alert system

(Image credit: / AstroStar)

The UK government is to launch a national emergency alert system that will send a text message to any mobile phone in areas where there is a risk to life such as a flood or terror attack.

Emergency alert systems powered by cell broadcasting technology are common in many countries, including the USA, Netherlands, Canada, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand, and have helped save lives during natural disasters such as earthquakes.

However, the UK has never had such a system, despite trials in the early 2010s. This meant that during the early phase of the Coronavirus pandemic, the government had to enlist the support of the four major mobile operators to send text messages to their customers.

Mobile emergency alert system

The new alert system will be far more effective and targeted because there is no need to contact the operators and it will be possible to issue both national and local alerts.

Cell broadcasting technology allows any authorised agency to send an alert to any device connected to a particular mobile site within ten seconds, ensuring the rapid dissemination of information to a specific location that could save lives.

This technology also means no personal details, such as phone numbers, are shared and ensures there is no significant strain added to the phone networks.

"The Emergency Alerts service will be a vital tool in helping us to better respond to emergencies, both nationally and locally,” declared Penny Mourdant, the Paymaster general. “The concept was used to good effect during the pandemic when we asked people, via text message, to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. This new system builds on that capability and will allow us to more quickly and effectively get life-saving messages to people across the UK.”

A series of public trials will take place before launch, with residents in East Suffolk the first to receive a test message on May 25. The government has said there will be a public information campaign before any national launch to increase awareness.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.