On Sunday 23 April 2023 at 15:00, there will be a national test of the UK Emergency Alerts service. 

In this blog we'll be covering the purpose of the Emergency Alerts, how to receive them, and how to opt out if they could potentially pose you a risk. 

Emergency Alerts is a UK government service that’s been created to warn you if there’s a danger to life nearby. In an emergency, your mobile phone or tablet will receive an alert with advice about how to stay safe. 

The alerts will only be sent to you by the emergency services or government departments, agencies and public bodies that deal with emergencies and could be used in instances of severe flooding, fires or extreme weather. 

What happens when you get an emergency alert? 

Your mobile phone or tablet may: 

  • Make a loud siren-like sound, even if it’s set on silent 
  • Vibrate 
  • Read out the alert 

The sound and vibration will last for about 10 seconds and the alert message will include a phone number or a link to the GOV.UK website for more information. The message will stay on screen until you acknowledge it - just like a ‘low battery’ warning. 

Watch this short video to see what the alert will look and sound like. 

You’ll get alerts based on your current location - not where you live or work. You don’t need to turn on location services to receive alerts. 

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. Emergency alerts work on all 4G and 5G phone networks in the UK and your mobile phone or tablet doesn’t have to be connected to mobile data or Wi-Fi to get alerts. 

What you need to do 

When you get an alert, stop what you’re doing (if it’s safe to do so) and follow the instructions in the alert. 

If you’re driving or riding when you get an alert 

  • You shouldn’t read or otherwise respond to an emergency alert whilst driving or riding a motorcycle. 
  • If you’re driving, you should continue to drive and not respond to the noise or attempt to pick up the mobile phone and deal with the message. 
  • Find somewhere safe and legal to stop before reading the message. If there’s nowhere safe or legal to stop close by, and nobody else is in the vehicle to read the alert, tune into live radio and wait for bulletins until you can find somewhere safe and legal to stop. 

It's illegal to use a hand-held device while driving or riding. 

woman sitting on her yellow sofa, with her feet up. She's holding her tablet device and a mug. She's concentrating on what's being shown on her device.

How to receive emergency alerts 

Emergency alerts will not replace local news, radio, television or social media and the Government doesn’t need to know your phone number or location to send you an alert. They’re free to receive and you don’t need to sign up for them or download an app. 

Emergency alerts will be sent in English, however, in Wales, they may also be sent in Welsh, and If you have a vision or hearing impairment, audio and vibration attention signals will let you know you have an emergency alert.* 

To ensure you receive emergency alerts, you’ll need to make sure your device has all the latest software updates, and you’ll need to check that you’ve got them switched on in your device settings. 

Emergency alerts work on: 

  • iPhones running iOS 14.5 or later 
  • Android phones and tablets running Android 11 or later 

If you’ve got an earlier version of Android, you may still be able to receive alerts. To check, go to ‘Settings’, then ‘Safety and emergency’ then ‘Wireless emergency alerts’.  

You won’t receive alerts if your device is: 

  • Turned off or in airplane mode 
  • Connected to a 2G or 3G network 
  • Wi-Fi only 
  • Not compatible 

If you don’t have a compatible device, you’ll still be informed about an emergency. The emergency services have other ways to warn you when there is a threat to life. 

Opting out of emergency alerts 

You can opt out of emergency alerts, but it’s recommended that you should keep them switched on for your own safety.  

For some people, opting out of emergency alerts might be necessary, for example, if you’re living with an abuser. An alert, which will be accompanied by a loud sound even if your phone is on silent, could put you at risk because it might let your abuser know you have another separate or secret phone.

To opt out of alerts on Android or iPhone, the instructions are very similar: 

  1. Open settings 
  2. Select 'Notifications' and scroll to the bottom until you see 'Emergency Alerts', or search for 'Emergency Alerts' 
  3. Turn off 'Extreme alerts' and 'Severe alerts'. 

If you’re worried that the alerts will put you at risk, the tech safety team at Refuge have put together this video to show how to turn alerts off, both on Android phones and on iPhones.

 If you’re afraid of your partner, the Refuge helpline team are available to support you. You can call them for free 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247, or live chat with them Monday-Friday, 3-10pm by visiting the National Domestic Abuse Helpline website.  


Avoiding fake alerts  

Unfortunately, fraudsters are constantly looking for new opportunities to target their victims. There’s a chance that they might try to use the Government emergency alert test to contact you, or someone you know, in an attempt to gain personal details, encourage you to click a link that could be malware or trick you into making a payment.   

The Government has said that the upcoming alert is a test only and no action needs to be taken. If you receive a message saying something else or asking you to click on a link, it could be a scam. If you’re not sure what to do, it’s important to remember not to click on any links and instead check if it’s genuine by visiting the Government website gov.uk and look for current alerts or past alerts.   

Anyone can be tricked by a scammer – they change tactics often and adapt quickly. At Barclays we’re constantly uncovering new scams. You can find out more about the latest scams and how to stay safe by searching for Barclays fraud and scams

Find out more about emergency alerts here. https://www.gov.uk/alerts 

* If you want to learn more about getting the most out of the accessibility features on your devices, you can read the Digital Wings article here.