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Emergency Alerts: What are they and how do they work?

Following the latest announcement from the UK Government, a nationwide Emergency Alert test is set to take place on the 23rd of April 2023 at 3 pm. 

Here’s everything you need to know about the system and this test:

What are Emergency Alerts?

Emergency Alerts is a service that the UK Government successfully tested in East Suffolk and Reading in 2021. The system enables a message, sound, and vibrations for up to 10 seconds to alert people via their mobile phone or tablet if they are in an area of risk, or if there is a threat to life nearby.

How do they work?

Emergency Alerts are direct messages sent to tablets and 4G or 5G-compatible mobile phones. You don’t need to provide your address or mobile phone number to be able to receive these alerts. 

When you receive a message, your phone will also emit a loud, siren-like sound with vibration. The message will inform you about the emergency nearby and the steps you should take to keep safe. 

You won’t be able to receive the alert if your phone is switched off, on Airplane Mode, is using Wi-Fi only, or your device only runs on a 2G or 3G network. But don’t worry - you will be alerted through other channels, and you can visit gov.uk/alerts to check if a message is legitimate.

Check your phone is compatible

On iPhones, go to:

Settings > Notifications > Emergency Alerts > Make sure the toggle is switched on (green)

On Android 12 phones, go to:

Settings > Safety and Emergency > Make sure the toggle is switched on (blue)

On Android 11 phones, go to:

Settings > Notifications > Advanced Settings > Emergency Alerts > Make sure the toggle is switched on (blue)

On Android 10 OS or older, go to:

Messages > Settings > Emergency Alert settings > Emergency Alerts > Make sure the toggle is switched on (blue)

Individual models vary, so you may have to search for “Emergency Alerts” to find the feature. 

Why would I get an alert?

The test on the 23rd of April will be carried out at 3pm. This is a national test and the sound and vibrations will automatically stop after 10 seconds. If you need to continue to use your phone during the alert, all you need to do is clear the message or press OK on your home screen.

Moving forward, the system will only send alerts if you are in an area close to one of the following emergencies:

  • Severe flooding
  • Fires
  • Explosions
  • Terrorist incidents 
  • Public health emergencies 

It is important to stop what you are doing and follow the instructions when you receive the alert.

Things to know

You will receive an Emergency Alert based on your current location, not your home or work address.

These messages occur automatically, last for 10 seconds and are free of charge. You don’t need to visit a webpage or sign up to receive them. 

You do have the choice of opting out of receiving these alerts, but the Government strongly recommends you keep this feature on for your own safety. 

You should ensure your device is updated to the latest version of its software - for iPhones, this should be iOS 14.5 or later and for Androids, this should be Android 11 or later.

For more information, you can visit the government’s official Emergency Alerts page. 

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