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UK emergency alerts: advice for victim-survivors

This week there will be a national test of the UK’s new Emergency Alerts service.

As part of the test, on Sunday 23rd April at 3pm, it’s expected that around 90% of phones and tablets in the UK will produce a siren-like sound and vibrate for 10 seconds.

If the test is successful, it may be used in the future to warn UK residents of risk to life such as wildfires or extreme flooding and public emergency alerts, enabling urgent notifications to be sent to specific geographical areas. In an emergency, your mobile phone or tablet will receive an alert with advice about how to stay safe.

The government say it could be “the sound that saves your life” one day.

Advice for victim-survivors of domestic abuse

While the government assures us that the alert will only be used in extreme and life-threatening circumstances, there have been some concerns about the introduction of the emergency alert service.

Domestic abuse survivors have been advised to turn off any hidden phones ahead of the test to avoid sounding the alert on their device.

The domestic violence organisation Refuge has warned that the test could alert abusers to hidden devices.

If you’re concerned, you can opt out of the test by turning off your phone before the test begins at 3pm in on Sunday 23rd April. Unlike a typical text message, the alert will not be issued once you turn the device back on.

What you need to know:

  • The sound may vary depending on the device
  • The sound will be emitted even if your device is on silent
  • It could also vibrate or automatically read out a message
  • The alert will last roughly ten seconds
  • You must then swipe the message away or press “OK” to continue using your device
  • People whose devices are turned off or on airplane mode will not receive the message
  • The alert uses 4G and 5G only, so devices connected to other networks won’t receive the alert
  • The government does not need to know your phone number or location to send you an alert.

Can I opt out of the emergency alert service?

Yes. You can opt out of the emergency alerts directly from your device.

Typically, to opt out you can search your settings for ‘emergency alerts’ and turn off Severe alerts and Emergency alerts. The process will vary from device.

More information about opting out can be found here.

Beware of scams

The emergency service alerts will never ask you for your phone number, location, or any other personal information. You do not need to download an app or sign up to receive alerts.

During an emergency, the warnings are delivered by mobile phone masts, which can broadcast them to compatible devices in the nearby region.

This means that the government does not require your phone number, location, or any other personal information to send you an emergency alert.

Helpful contacts

Useful links:

Understanding coercive control and what you can do about it

Lost sense of self: Seven signs you are in a relationship with a narcissist

The cost-of-living in an abusive relationship

What is tech abuse?

What is economic abuse?

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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