Mobile networks across the UK are once again set to panic their users this afternoon as part of a test of the government's Emergency Alerts system – causing selected mobiles to "make a loud, siren-like sound."
Due to launch for full operation this summer, the government Emergency Alerts system is a messaging platform designed to get information out to as many people as possible as quickly as can be.
"Emergency alerts work like a radio broadcast," the government explained. "In an emergency, mobile phone masts in the surrounding area will broadcast an alert. Every compatible mobile phone or tablet in range of a mast will receive the alert. You will get alerts based on your current location – not where you live or work."
Before the system can be rolled out, however, it has to be tested – which is exactly what's going to happen this afternoon at 12:00 UTC in a nationwide experiment. "Some mobile phone networks in the UK are testing emergency alerts between 1pm and 2pm [12:00-13:00 UTC]," the government warned those few souls who sit and refresh the Emergency Alerts planned-test portal.
"The alert will say: This is a mobile network operator test of the Emergency Alerts service. You do not need to take any action. To find out more, search for gov.uk/alerts."
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While the test is nationwide, not all devices will be affected. Those with an Apple iPhone in their pocket won't receive anything, despite the alert system being compatible with iOS 14.5 and above, while anyone running Android 11 or higher has "a small chance" of receiving a test alert.
"Your device," the government warned, "may make a loud siren-like sound."
It's a noise which may be familiar to O2 subscribers, whose devices did exactly that during an earlier test – literally, first thing in the morning while subscribers were likely still stirring their coffees – in May this year.
The wording of the test message is, at least, significantly more reassuring than that used in Hawaii back in 2018 when the US Emergency Alert System (EAS) incorrectly sent out a warning that a "ballistic missile threat" was inbound and citizens should "seek immediate shelter."
Following this afternoon's experiment, the next test of the system is scheduled for 29 June 2021 at the same time, and will trigger both iPhones and Androids in Berkshire.
Those who would prefer to be undisturbed can opt out of lower-severity alerts. ®