23 February 2024 5:47 PM
Don't panic as Government tests Emergency Alert system on Sunday at 3pm

At 3pm on Sunday, millions of mobile phones and tablets will start blaring with a shrill alarm during a nationwide test of a new public alert system – disturbing some of the biggest sporting and cultural events of the year.

Spectators and theatregoers will face disruption when devices across the UK emit a loud noise and vibrate this weekend, during crucial Premier League football matches, West End shows and the end of the London Marathon.

The peace at Evensong at Westminster Abbey will even be shattered by the test and organisers of the World Snooker Championship have decided to pause play just before 3pm at the Crucible in Sheffield. 

The Society of London Theatre (Solt) said it had shared the Government’s guidance with its members and advised them to tell attendees to turn off their phones to ‘minimise disruption to shows’. Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, Wicked, Frozen, Mamma Mia! and The Lion King are among the shows putting on matinees as usual on Sunday.

Drivers have been warned that it will be illegal to pick up their mobiles during the test – punishable with a £200 fine – and domestic violence campaigners have warned the test could put people in danger by revealing the location of secret phones hidden by those at risk. They have been urged to switch off those phones or change the settings before 3pm on Sunday.

The trial of the system that aims to warn the public if there is a danger to life nearby will last for about 10 seconds. The system is intended to be used in life-threatening situations including flooding and wildfires. The authorities have launched a campaign to ensure people know it is a test, but there are concerns that many people will still panic when the alarm begins.

Sporting, cultural and religious events are set to be disrupted by the piercing electronic warning which will alert people that there is nothing to worry about

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At 3pm on Sunday, this message will appear on millions of mobile phones across the country, along with a 10-second siren sound… even if the handsets are on silent mode

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Switching off a mobile phone or setting it to ‘airplane’ mode will prevent it from receiving Sunday’s alert. Although, it is possible to permanently disable emergency alerts in the settings menu of Apple and Android powered handsets

LW Theatres, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s group of seven West End theatres including the London Palladium, said it planned to make an announcement before its shows but had no plans to change the times of its matinee performances.

The message will be received on 4G and 5G mobile phones, along with sound and vibration for up to 10 seconds.

Phone users will be prompted to acknowledge the alert by swiping or clicking the message before being able to continue using their device.

The system is modelled on similar schemes in the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Japan.

The test on St George’s Day coincides with major events including the London Marathon and the 2pm kick-off Premier League ties between Bournemouth and West Ham, and Newcastle and Tottenham Hotspur.

Officials said they have worked with the Football Association and the marathon’s organisers to make sure the impact of the test will be limited.

People who do not wish to receive the alerts will be able to opt out in their device settings, but officials hope the life-saving potential of the messages means that users will keep them on.

The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) warned people with hidden second mobile phones to turn off the alerts to avoid revealing the location of their devices.

The Government said it has been actively engaging with organisations working with vulnerable women and girls to ensure they are not adversely affected by the introduction of emergency alerts.

Officials stressed that it is easy to opt out of the system if people need their phone to stay concealed, either by turning off the alerts or simply having the phone switched off during the test.

The AA said motorists may prefer to switch off their electronic devices before Sunday’s test as laws banning the use of handheld phones will still apply.

Drivers caught holding a phone behind the wheel face six penalty points and a £200 fine.

During an actual emergency, a user’s phone will include a phone number of a link to the government’s website where more information will be provided. 

The alerts will be sent to all phones connected with a local mobile phone cell tower, meaning the messages can be targeted to small geographic areas, to provide information about events such as severe flooding, fires or extreme measures.

Downing Street has stressed only the emergency services  or government departments, agencies and public bodies that deal with emergencies will be able to issue alerts. 

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Among the events possibly facing disruption is the Cazoo World Snooker Championships at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Two matches are due to resume at 2.30pm on Sunday, 30 minutes before the planned alert

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Newcastle United, pictured, are due to take on Tottenham Hotspur

For those who do not want to interrupt their Sunday afternoon, there are a couple of easy methods of preventing your phone from disturbing the peace. The easiest involves switching off the handset ahead of the planned alert. 

Turning the handset onto ‘airplane’ mode will also prevent the phone from vibrating. 

Organisations representing female victims of domestic violence said they feared the alert could notify an abusive partner if a woman had a secret phone for keeping contact with friends and family without the man’s knowledge. 

Those involved in the project believe the alert system would have been useful during last summer’s wild fires and several mass flooding events.  

According to a Government spokesperson: ‘You’ll get alerts based on your current location – not where you live or work. You do not need to turn on location services to receive alerts.

‘When you get an alert, stop what you’re doing and follow the instructions in the alert.

‘If you do not have a compatible device, you’ll still be informed about an emergency. The emergency services have other ways to warn you when there is a threat to life.

If you have a vision or hearing impairment, audio and vibration attention signals will let you know you have an emergency alert.

Emergency alerts will be sent in English. In Wales, they may also be sent in Welsh.

Oliver Dowden, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said: ‘Emergency Alerts have already been used successfully in a number of other countries, including the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Japan, where it has been widely credited with saving lives, for example, during severe weather events. 

‘In the UK, alerts could be used to tell residents of villages being encroached by wildfires, or of severe flooding.’ 

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Westminster Abbey will be holding an Evensong service at the same time as the alert

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Visitors to cultural institutions such as the National Gallery, pictured, are also likely to face disruption as phones vibrate and shrill during Sunday’s test

Alex Woodman, chief fire officer at the Fire Chief’s Council said: ‘The Government has worked together with the emergency services and partners, including the Football Association and London Marathon, to make sure the national test has minimum impact on major events taking place on the day.

‘At every stage, the Government has worked with organisations and charities who represent vulnerable groups to make sure they are not adversely affected. Women and girls who are subject to domestic abuse and have concealed phones can opt-out of the national test either by turning off Emergency Alerts in their phone settings or by switching their phone off.’

Emma Pickering, Senior Operations Tech Abuse Manager at Refuge, said:  ‘The Government has also worked with the transport sector and organisations such as Highways England to make sure drivers are aware of the alert and they follow the normal rules as when receiving any phone call or message; that they do not look or touch their phone until it is safe to do so.

‘Emergency Alerts will transform the UK’s warning and informing capability; by working with mobile broadcasting technology it will provide a means to get urgent messages quickly to nearly 90 percent of mobile phones in a defined area when there is a risk to life, and provide clear instructions about how best to respond.

‘The system will be used very rarely – only being sent where there is an immediate risk to people’s lives – so people may not receive an alert for months or years.’

Source : https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-11995833/Dont-panic-Government-tests-Emergency-Alert-Sunday-3pm.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ito=1490&ns_campaign=1490&rand=1270

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