UK

Britons will be sent SOS text alerts warning of emergencies in new government trial

Britons will be sent SOS text alerts warning of terror attacks, fires and severe flooding with advice on how to respond in new government trial

  • The trial will launch in east Suffolk on May 25 and, if successful, will be rolled out 
  • Government is using existing capabilities used during coronavirus pandemic 
  • Similar systems are already used in US and New Zealand to warn of earthquakes 

Text message alerts warning the public of emergencies including floods, fires and terrorist attacks are being developed by the government. 

Based on the use of text messages during the coronavirus pandemic, the trial will see messages sent to people in east Suffolk warning of emergencies and how to respond. 

If the pilot later this month is successful, it will be made available across the UK later this year. 

Under the emergency alert system, 4G and 5G mobile network operator technology will be used to text messages near to the incident of a scene which could pose a threat to life including public health emergencies, fires, flooding and terrorist attacks. 

When alerted, the mobile phone receiving the notification is said to give a loud tone and vibration to convey the urgency of the situation

The messages will be received within 10 seconds of transmission, and will extend to mobiles which enter the area later. 

As the system uses cell towers in the vicinity of the area, messages are free to receive and do not give away the location of the person receiving the message. 

When alerted, the mobile phone receiving the notification is said to give a loud tone and vibration to convey the urgency of the situation.  

 A similar system has been used in earthquake zones in the U.S, Canada, south Korea, Japan, the Netherlands and New Zealand. 

There have been occasions when a similar service goes wrong. In 2018, people living in Hawaii were sent a ballistic missile alert via their phones, and over television and radio. 

Residents waited nearly 40 minutes before state officials retracted the message, which advised residents to seek shelter, blaming a miscommunication during a drill.  

Cabinet Office Minister Penny Mordaunt has said the tool is based on existing capabilities and will help to improve the public response to an emergency. 

Cabinet Office Minister Penny Mordaunt has said the tool is based on existing capabilities and will help to improve the public response to an emergency

Cabinet Office Minister Penny Mordaunt has said the tool is based on existing capabilities and will help to improve the public response to an emergency

‘The Emergency Alerts service will be a vital tool in helping us to better respond to emergencies, both nationally and locally,’ she said. 

‘[It] will allow us to more quickly and effectively get life-saving messages to people across the UK.’

Residents in east Suffolk who receive messages on May 25 will not need to respond, as any texts before the official launch are part of testing the service. 

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