Thirty years after Britain dismantled its national network of air raid sirens, the government is implementing a new system to warn citizens in the event of an emergency, only this time via mobile phones.
The ministers said the system would send alerts to 4G and 5G phones about imminent life-threatening weather events, such as extreme flooding or wildfires. The “broadcast” system could also be used to warn of security threats, including terrorist attacks, as is the case in other countries, such as the Netherlands.
The government said on Thursday that across the UK proof of the emergency alert system would take place at 3 p.m. for up to 10 seconds.
“Put this system to work. . . It means we have another tool in our toolkit for keeping the public safe in life-threatening emergencies. It could be the sound that saves your life,” Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Dowden said.
Phone users just need to swipe the message or click “OK” on the screen, the government said. Users do not need to register their number.
In addition to the Netherlands, mobile broadcast alerts have been used in a number of countries, including the US, Canada, and Japan, where they are credited with saving lives during severe weather events.
In the UK, alerts could be used to urge residents threatened by flood or bushfire to evacuate. During last summer’s heat wave, when temperatures reached a record 40°C, England’s fire services treaty with more than 50 wildfires per day, four times the number in 2021.
“We must use all the tools at our disposal to keep people safe, and we need everyone to play their part,” said Mark Hardingham, president of the National Council of Fire Chiefs. “The national test may be inconvenient for some, but forgive us for the intrusion.”
The shriek of sirens has become the defining sound emergencies when life is at risk, especially in wartime. Its sound was a constant in many parts of the UK during the WWII warning of incoming German bombing raids.
The network was maintained during the cold war and was designed to give the population a four-minute warning before a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. The system was decommissioned in 1993 after the end of the cold war.
Officials said mobile broadcast technology meant the new system could be limited to providing warnings to 90 percent of mobile phones in a defined geographic area and would contain clear instructions on how to stay safe.
The alarm will work on any phone, but the system will only be used when there is an immediate risk to life, so people may not receive an alert for months or years, they added.