Rude awakening for O2 customers after network runs surprise test of emergency mobile alert system

Sorry, there's no nuclear missile inbound. You have to go to work


Birds chirping, the gentle burbling of coffee brewing – these are the sounds we typically associate with the dawn hours.

Everyone, that is, except customers of O2, who arose this morning to a noise described as akin to a "nuclear siren" after the network performed an unannounced test of the UK's emergency alert system.

The two alerts, sent around 0745 and 0800, were accompanied by a forebodingly shrill beep, the kind of which you'd expect to hear if a cruise missile was heading to your house. Meanwhile, a disembodied computerised voice read out the alert's message, which said as follows:

EMERGENCY ALERT

*** This is a Test Message *** This is an O2 Test Message to test Cell Broadcast. No action required. In future, alerts like this one may be used to warn you about a danger to life in the local area. *** End of Test Message ***

You can listen to the alert in the embedded tweet below.

The text – which was also received by customers of MVNOs that use O2's network in Britain, including Giffgaff, Sky Mobile, and Tesco Mobile – disrupted lie-ins, and slightly more seriously, caused genuine alarm among some.

"Thought I'd get to sleep in late this morning, but no, @O2 thought that 7:30-45(ish) AM and 8:00AM were the perfect times to test their new emergency alert system," moaned one Twitter user.

"After receiving a loud, emergency alert message from you at 7:45am and again at 8am, my panic attack has just become slightly bearable. Couldn't you have done this in the afternoon?" said another.

This alarm is perhaps understandable, considering the UK was a latecomer to the adoption of Cell Broadcast alerts, and the public is largely unfamiliar with them. Elsewhere around the world, Cell Broadcast is used to warn of everything from tornadoes and earthquakes, to missing children.

The tech has been adopted in the US, South Korea, Japan, and New Zealand, to name just a few. Additionally, the European Union has created its own standard for Cell Broadcast messaging, called EU-Alert. This has formed the basis for systems in the Netherlands, Lithuania, Romania, and Greece.

The UK government first started exploring the use of mobile alerts during the Coalition years. Between 2013 and 2015, the Cabinet Office evaluated the technology, launching trials in North Yorkshire, Glasgow, and Suffolk. Later tests were carried out in 2018 and 2019, in partnership with the Environment Agency, EE, and the University of Hull.

Despite the rude awakening, O2 subscribers can at least take comfort in the fact that they're not about to experience the kind of dystopian nuclear afterlife depicted in the brutally bleak TV film Threads.

And it could have been worse. In 2018, a rogue Cell Broadcast message warned Hawaiians of an incoming ballistic missile, prompting a mass scramble for shelter. It took 38 minutes for the local authorities to fess up to the mistake. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • North Korea pulled in $400m in cryptocurrency heists last year – report

    Plus: FIFA 22 players lose their identity and Texas gets phony QR codes

    In brief Thieves operating for the North Korean government made off with almost $400m in digicash last year in a concerted attack to steal and launder as much currency as they could.

    A report from blockchain biz Chainalysis found that attackers were going after investment houses and currency exchanges in a bid to purloin funds and send them back to the Glorious Leader's coffers. They then use mixing software to make masses of micropayments to new wallets, before consolidating them all again into a new account and moving the funds.

    Bitcoin used to be a top target but Ether is now the most stolen currency, say the researchers, accounting for 58 per cent of the funds filched. Bitcoin accounted for just 20 per cent, a fall of more than 50 per cent since 2019 - although part of the reason might be that they are now so valuable people are taking more care with them.

    Continue reading
  • Tesla Full Self-Driving videos prompt California's DMV to rethink policy on accidents

    Plus: AI systems can identify different chess players by their moves and more

    In brief California’s Department of Motor Vehicles said it’s “revisiting” its opinion of whether Tesla’s so-called Full Self-Driving feature needs more oversight after a series of videos demonstrate how the technology can be dangerous.

    “Recent software updates, videos showing dangerous use of that technology, open investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the opinions of other experts in this space,” have made the DMV think twice about Tesla, according to a letter sent to California’s Senator Lena Gonzalez (D-Long Beach), chair of the Senate’s transportation committee, and first reported by the LA Times.

    Tesla isn’t required to report the number of crashes to California’s DMV unlike other self-driving car companies like Waymo or Cruise because it operates at lower levels of autonomy and requires human supervision. But that may change after videos like drivers having to take over to avoid accidentally swerving into pedestrians crossing the road or failing to detect a truck in the middle of the road continue circulating.

    Continue reading
  • Alien life on Super-Earth can survive longer than us due to long-lasting protection from cosmic rays

    Laser experiments show their magnetic fields shielding their surfaces from radiation last longer

    Life on Super-Earths may have more time to develop and evolve, thanks to their long-lasting magnetic fields protecting them against harmful cosmic rays, according to new research published in Science.

    Space is a hazardous environment. Streams of charged particles traveling at very close to the speed of light, ejected from stars and distant galaxies, bombard planets. The intense radiation can strip atmospheres and cause oceans on planetary surfaces to dry up over time, leaving them arid and incapable of supporting habitable life. Cosmic rays, however, are deflected away from Earth, however, since it’s shielded by its magnetic field.

    Now, a team of researchers led by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) believe that Super-Earths - planets that are more massive than Earth but less than Neptune - may have magnetic fields too. Their defensive bubbles, in fact, are estimated to stay intact for longer than the one around Earth, meaning life on their surfaces will have more time to develop and survive.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022