A siren-like emergency warning message will be sent to phones across the UK next month to test out a new public alert system.
The loud warning sound and vibration will appear on home screens on April 23 – St George’s Day – and will not stop until people acknowledge it.
The system is intended to be used during life-threatening situations including flooding and wildfires and has already been used in countries like the US, Canada, the Netherlands and Japan.
It will focus on the most severe weather events and get a message to 90% of mobile users within the relevant area in an emergency.
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden said: ‘We are strengthening our national resilience with a new emergency alerts system, to deal with a wide range of threats – from flooding to wildfires.
‘It will revolutionise our ability to warn and inform people who are in immediate danger, and help us keep people safe.
‘As we’ve seen in the US and elsewhere, the buzz of a phone can save a life.’
People who don’t 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.
Alerts will only ever come from government or emergency services and will include details about areas affected.
The cabinet office confirmed alerts are secure, free to receive, and one-way, insisting they do not reveal anyone’s location or collect personal data.
Tests on the service have already taken place in Reading and East Suffolk.
It is hoped the scheme could eventually be used to issue warnings about terrorist incidents.
But officials said they need more information about how the alerts system operates in the UK before that can happen.
National Fire Chiefs Council chairman Mark Hardingham said: ‘Together with every fire and rescue service in the country, I’m looking forward to having emergency alerts available to help us to do our jobs and to help communities in the event of emergencies.
‘We’ve seen this type of system in action elsewhere across the world and we look forward to having the facility here in the UK – by working together with fire services and partners, we want this system to help us to help you be as safe as you can if a crisis does hit.’
The Environment Agency’s Caroline Douglas, the executive director for flood and coastal erosion risk management, said: ‘Being able to communicate warnings in a timely and accurate manner during incidents is really important to help people take action to protect themselves, their families, and their neighbours.’
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