Emergency alert test: Why and when it’s happening

The national test alert will be sent out to all mobile phones on April 23 at 3pm.

On Sunday 23 April, a siren will go off on nearly every smartphone across the UK as part of a Government test of a new system.

Emergency alerts are urgent messages that are broadcast to a localised area when there is an imminent risk to life, such as wildfires or severe flooding. They’ve already been successful in other countries, including the US and Japan, where they have been widely credited with saving lives.

“Getting this system operational with the national test means we have another tool in our toolkit to keep the public safe in life-threatening emergencies,” said Oliver Dowden, the government minister in charge of the system. “It could be the sound that saves your life.”

Mobile phone showing an emergency alertCredit: Governnment/Exceptional
90% of smartphones will receive this emergency alert on April 23 at 3pm

In the UK, as well as alerting people to natural disasters or severe weather, the alert will also be used during terror incidents or if the country ever comes under attack. The system has already been successfully piloted in Reading and East Suffolk, and will now be introduced in the rest of the UK this month.


When will it happen?

No interruption to the football

The alert is taking place on Sunday 23 April at 3pm.

It’s a busy Sunday, with both the London Marathon and a FA Cup semi-final match at Wembley Stadium taking place, so the time was chosen to ensure it has minimum impact on those events. Originally the test was set to go out later, but the Government didn’t want to risk alarming thousands of football fans at Wembley during the match.

What will it sound like?

Be prepared for a 10-second siren

The alert will sound as a loud, beeping siren-like noise (listen below). This will happen even if your phone is on silent.

Your phone or tablet will also vibrate during the alert and a message will appear on the screen that will include a phone number or a link to the Government website for more information. The alert will last for approximately 10 seconds.

There are worries that the sound may cause drivers to take their eyes off the road and crash.

Edmund King, president of the AA, says his biggest worry is that less experienced drivers may be alarmed when the siren sounds.

If you’re driving or riding when you get an alert, the Government has advised you continue driving and do not pick up your phone. You can receive six penalty points and a £200 fine if you hold or use a phone while driving, so if you want to read the message, wait until you can pull over somewhere safe.

Mark Hardingham, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, believes the alert is well worth any risk of panic when weighed up against its potential to save lives.

“For ten seconds, the national test may be inconvenient for some, but please forgive us for the intrusion – because the next time you hear it, your life, and the life-saving actions of our emergency services, could depend on it,” he says.

Man looking a mobile phone in a carCredit: Shutterstock
The Government are warning people not to look at the emergency alert if they are driving

How do emergency alerts work?

Location based for localised 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.

As it’s all location-based, you’ll get alerts based on your current location – not where you live or work. While the test will go out to everyone in the UK, future alerts will be localised to where that emergency is happening.

Emergency alerts work on all 4G and 5G phone networks in the UK, and your device does not need to be connected to mobile data or wi-fi to get them.

It’s estimated that about 90% of smartphones will receive the alert. iPhones running iOS 14.5 or later, and Android phones and tablets running Android 11 or later, will all receive them. You do not need to turn on location services to receive the alert.

The Government advice is to make sure your mobile phone has been updated with the latest software, to ensure you receive these in the future.


Which phones won’t receive the alert?

If you don’t have a smartphone, you won’t receive these alerts. A smartphone is one that connects to the internet so if you don’t have this option, the alert will not work.

Older smartphones also won’t receive the update. If you have an iPhone 5 or less, they are unable to run the software needed to do this. To check what iPhone model you have, go to ‘Settings’, then choose ‘General’ and finally click on ‘About’. The model name will be displayed there.

If you have another smartphone that isn’t Apple, you will only get the test alert if it’s operating on Android 11 and above – Android 10 (and previous operating systems) will not work. Each phone is slightly different, but to check if you’re on the latest update, generally you need to go to ‘Settings’, then ‘About Phone’, and then choose ‘Software Information’. This will tell you what update is currently on your phone.

How can I turn it off?

Disable the alert in your phone settings

While the Government advises you to keep the alerts on for your own safety, for some, it could be safer to turn them off.

The charity Refuge has raised concerns that the alerts are a real risk to domestic abuse survivors who may have secret phones hidden from their perpetrators.

It’s simple to opt out of these alerts. Simply go to your phone’s settings and do the following:

  • On iPhones, enter the notifications tab and scroll to the bottom. You can then switch off “severe alerts” and “extreme alerts”
  • On Android phones, search for “emergency alert”, then use the toggles to turn off the alerts you do not want

You will also not receive alerts if your device is turned off or in airplane mode, you are connected to a 2G or 3G network, or you’re using wi-fi only.

Are there any other issues?

Phones may freeze

You will need to acknowledge the alert before you can use other features on the phone, and some experts have said this may interfere with activities you were doing before the siren sounded.

Home delivery expert ParcelHero believes it could disrupt activities, such as shopping or banking, and even make phones freeze. David Jinks, ParcelHero’s head of consumer research, says: “That means there’s little way of avoiding the impact of this test. That’s bad news for people gaming, shopping and banking on their devices as the alert is broadcast.”

The Government has downplayed these fears, saying that you can just swipe the notification away and carry on with whatever you’ve been doing.

The system will only be used where there is an immediate risk to people’s lives, so after the test on 23 April, you may not receive an alert for months or years. Visit gov.uk/alerts for more information.

Worried about your privacy?

As the system uses the cell tower your phone is connected to, your phone number isn’t needed to send out the alert. No additional data such as your device or location will be collected. The system will only be used to warn you about an immediate threat to life, so you won’t receive any spam messages from the Government.

Jayne Cherrington-Cook

Written by Jayne Cherrington-Cook she/her


Jayne is the Senior Editor at Saga Exceptional. She cut her online journalism teeth 23 years ago in an era when a dialling tone and slow page load were standard. During this time, she’s written about a variety of subjects and is just at home road-testing TVs as she is interviewing TV stars.

A diverse career has seen Jayne launch websites for popular magazines, collaborate with top brands, write regularly for major publications including Woman&Home, Yahoo! and The Daily Telegraph, create a podcast, and also write a tech column for Women’s Own.

Jayne lives in Kent with a shepsky, her husband and her son, who is attempting to teach her the ways of TikTok, Aston Villa and anime. A keen neurodivergent ally after her son was diagnosed as autistic five years ago, when Jayne does have some rare downtime she enjoys yoga, reading, going to musicals and attempting to emulate Beyonce (poorly) in street dance classes.

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