Government to test emergency mobile alerts service in Reading

  • Doug Buchanan, Assistant Chief Fire Officer

The Government is to trial the use of the Emergency Alerts Service in Reading next week, after a successful attempt in East Suffolk.

Anyone living or travelling into the county town on the 29th of June will receive the alert, which will play a siren-like sound as well as pop up on the screen of their mobile device.

The system will mainly be used for life-threatening incidents, which could include public health emergencies, severe floods, fires, industrial incidents and terror attacks.

The system is already used in America and works across android and iOS devices Credit: PA Images

Officials stress that anyone who receives the alert will not need to do anything. The message received may say there is an emergency - there will not be.

Most importantly the alerts do not track anyone's location or collect any personal data.

Should this test prove successful, the system could be rolled out across the whole of the UK later this year.

Anyone driving at the time of the test may have the message read out by their phone, overriding any audio playing at the time. Officials say you should not touch your phone, continue driving safely and not respond to the noise.

A mobile phone mast (cell tower) in Basingstoke Credit: PA Images

The system will take advantage of the expansive deployment of 4G technology in the UK, which has many advantages over conventional SMS (text) messaging.

Text messaging was used during the start of the pandemic, when the Government sent a text to almost everyone in the country asking them to "stay home".

A text message from the Government at the start of the pandemic Credit: PA Images

Emergency services will be able to target certain areas through the new system, as well as get messages out to people at risk quicker. It will take around 4-10 seconds for users to receive one of these alerts.

The alert will also override user settings on any devices in the area, playing out a loud tone and vibration, even if the device is set to silent mode.

The system is also "future proofed" and will be compatible with 5G networks as they roll out across the UK.