Government to test location-based mobile alerts to warn public of emergencies

The Cabinet Office is working with EE, Vodafone and O2

The government has announced plans to test location-based mobile alerts that could be used to inform the public of imminent emergencies.

It is working with EE, O2 and Vodafone on three pilots that aim to gauge the public's reaction to being informed of incidents via a mobile message.

The Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2010 set out the government's commitment to 'evaluate options for an improved public alert system'. The Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS) have since been working to understand where the current gaps in the UK's alerting capability are and how they can be addressed in order to fulfil this commitment.

"The government and three mobile phone companies, O2, Vodafone and EE, will conduct separate tests later this year to look at a how different technologies work and how the public react when they receive an emergency alert to their phone," said Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude.

"I want to reassure the public that these tests are not linked to any threat or specific hazard in their area. We have included diverse areas - both rural and urban - as part of our tests, as we want to look at how effective the different systems are in different areas in using mobile phones to deliver mass messaging."

The trials will take place in three locations: North Yorkshire (18 September), Glasgow (3 October), and Suffolk (20 November).

According to the Cabinet Office, the areas have been chosen to provide a good geographic coverage of the UK and a balance of urban-rural areas.

"In total approximately 50,000 people across the three areas may receive the messages. The message itself will make clear that it is only a test and I do not want the public to be alarmed in any way," said Maude.

"We are also looking for help from the public in evaluating how well the tests worked and how they felt about receiving messages in this way and we would welcome the public's views which they can provide via an online survey or a series of focus groups. Further details about this will be made available locally."

He added: "I want to thank the three mobile phone companies that are taking part, for working with us to test this technology. Ensuing that local areas receive quick accurate information in the event of an emergency is crucial to an effective response and the information that we receive from these tests will help us develop systems that local emergency responders will be able to use in the future."

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