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Urgent | Millions of UK phone users receive an emergency siren

The British government recently launched an ‘Emergency Alerts’ service to alert citizens of life-threatening emergencies. The service sends alerts to mobile phones and tablets with advice on how to stay safe during an emergency.

The government does not need to know the phone number or location of users to send alerts. Conditions for which warnings are sent include severe flooding, fire and severe weather.

Emergency services, government departments and agencies, and public agencies that deal with emergencies cooperate in sending emergency alerts. When receiving an emergency alert, mobile phones or tablets will sound a siren and vibrate for about 10 seconds.

For more information, the alert will include a phone number or a link to GOV.UK. Alerts are based on the user’s current location, not where they live or work. You don’t need to turn on location services to receive alerts.

In the event of an emergency alert, users should stop what they are doing and follow the instructions in the alert. If the user is driving a vehicle after receiving the warning, do not read or respond to the warning while driving or riding. The user must find a safe and legal place to stop before reading the message. If there is no safe and legal place to stop and there is no one else in the vehicle who can read the alert, the user can listen to messages on live radio to find out more information about the emergency. It should be noted that it is against the law to use mobile devices while driving or riding.

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If emergency alerts are not received because the device is not compatible, the user will be aware of emergency situations, as emergency services have other means of alerting when life is threatened. Emergency alerts do not replace local news, radio, television or social media.

For people with hearing or vision impairments, the acoustic and vibration signals used in emergency alerts notify them that an emergency alert has been received. Emergency alerts are sent in English and in Wales they are also sent in Welsh.

How does the UK emergency alert system work?

Emergency alerts are broadcast on cellphone towers and work over 4G and 5G cellphone networks.

This differs from how the government sent out lockdown orders during the pandemic, when SMS messages were sent directly to phone numbers.

That means the person sending the alert doesn’t have to know your phone number, so you don’t have to answer it, and you won’t get a voicemail if you miss it. No location information or other data is collected.

Anyone within range of the tower will receive an alert, and it can be set by geography – for example, Manchester residents don’t need an alert for life-threatening flooding in Cornwall.

Many people received the alert at 2:59pm on Sunday – a minute earlier than planned – after it was sent to all 4G and 5G devices across the UK. The alarm lasted about 10 seconds.

People were told that no action was required and that they could get rid of the message by withdrawing it.

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However, some said they received the message more than 10 minutes later than planned, while others said they received nothing at all.