Press release

Emergency mobile alert tests to be conducted

Mobile alert tests are being carried out in Glasgow, Suffolk and Yorkshire to make sure the public can receive information in an emergency.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Tests to ensure that the public can receive alerts to their mobile phone in the event of an emergency will take place in selected locations throughout the country this autumn, Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude announced today.

Three tests in specific parts of Yorkshire, Suffolk and Glasgow are intended to test how various alerting technologies work and the public’s reaction to them.

Francis Maude said:

The government and 3 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.

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.

Messages will be sent to mobile phones in the test areas by SMS in parts of Suffolk and Glasgow, and by SMS and Cell Broadcasting in parts of Yorkshire. In total approximately 50,000 people across the 3 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. 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.

I want to thank the 3 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.

Notes to editors

  1. The tests will be conducted in: around Easingwold in North Yorkshire, Glasgow City Centre, and around Leiston in Suffolk.
  2. If a member of the public would like to be involved in the follow-up research into these tests, and they are located in one of the test areas, they can email for further information.
  3. ‘Cell broadcast’ is the transmission of a text-type message to a defined geographic area. The mobile phone network is split into ‘cells’ with a mast at the centre, these range in size depending where you are in the country. During cell broadcasting, cells can be selected and a message broadcast to every active handset within it.
  4. Cell broadcast operates on a different channel to voice and SMS (texts) and therefore does not suffer from nor contribute to network congestion. Personal data such as telephone numbers or user data are not required as the message is sent to all handsets in the area.
  5. Location based SMS involves the use of a database to develop a list of numbers within a defined area in order to send them an SMS message directly. Currently the locations of mobile phones are tracked by the database which is owned by the mobile network operator. This will allow handsets to be messaged if the person carrying it is in an area impacted by an emergency. Personal data such as telephone numbers are stored in the database so people would not be required to sign up. Personal data such as telephone numbers or user data are not required as the message is sent to all handsets in the area.
  6. The ability to warn and inform the public when responding to the wide range of disruptive challenges the UK faces is a key component of any response. This is reflected in the inclusion in the Civil Contingencies Act (2004) of a statutory duty for category 1 responders to maintain arrangements to warn and inform the public in times of emergency. Public alerting is one crucial part of this overall communications process with the timely dissemination of alert messages enabling recipients to take protective action in an emergency. Providing this information could significantly reduce the levels of harm experienced.
  7. The Strategic Defence and Security Review (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.

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Published 17 September 2013