In the News

Public emergency alerts on UK phones

Alice Griffiths

20th March 2023

A new public warning system designed to alert people to the threat of natural hazards is to go on trial in the UK next month. Sent by the emergency services or the government, messages will trigger compatible mobile phones within an area of risk to sound a siren for about 10 seconds. These alerts would warn people in an affected area about severe flooding, fires or extreme weather. The linked messages will include details of the area impacted and instructions about how to respond.

As the Government's short public information video makes clear, early warning systems have been successfully employed in other countries; including Japan, as all good geographers know. In Japan, an earthquake early warning is issued to the public when a quake of 5 or higher on Japan’s seismic scale (a seismic intensity scale) is expected. The system is triggered when a ‘P’ or primary wave of an earthquake is detected by two of Japan’s 4000+ seismometers, and is designed to enable people to take shelter or evacuate before the arrival of strong surface waves. In 2011, residents of the capital Tokyo had around 80 seconds to respond to the alert about an early morning earthquake on the 11th March; an event which also triggered a devastating tsunami.

The USA has a national warning system that has operated via mobile phones since 2012. The majority of alerts originate from the National Weather Service in response to the threat of severe weather including tornadoes, flash floods, hurricanes, tsunami, even thunderstorms. New Zealand's system run by the National Emergency Management Agency is tested nationwide annually. The results from its 2019 showed it to be effective in disseminating information, with more than two-thirds of New Zealanders received the test alert message.

In the UK, the general public will be able to check the message they have received on their phone is genuine by going online to

Anyone concerned about the data protection implications of such a system should be reassured that (as the Government’s explainer video states) ‘They don’t use your phone number, collect data or track your movements’. However it does suggest we’ll need to keep phone software up to date, in order to receive alerts.

On Sunday 23rd April 2023, there will be a national test of the new UK emergency alerts service, which is being promoted with the strapline ‘Our way to warn you when lives are in danger’.

Read more about Emergency Alerts in the UK in this BBC article.

Alice Griffiths

Alice has taught Geography over a period of twenty years. She is a published author and editor of a wide range of A level resources and has also created award-winning, online content for younger students. An occasional presenter at the GA’s annual conference, she was head of department at an 11-18 school until 2020.

© 2002-2024 Tutor2u Limited. Company Reg no: 04489574. VAT reg no 816865400.