What Ever Happened To The UK's Emergency Alert System For Life-Threatening Events?

Every mobile phone was supposed to receive a “welcome message” in October.
The government's promotional advert for the service
The government's promotional advert for the service
Cabinet Office

An emergency warning system to alert the public about life-threatening events has been put on ice, HuffPost UK can reveal.

The technology was due to launch in October but has been delayed while the government reviews its spending.

The technology is designed to alert the majority of the public via their mobile phones about everything from floods to terror attacks.

A publicity campaign was due to start in September and every phone in England, Scotland and Wales was supposed to receive a “welcome message” in October.

However, the first hint that it might fall victim to spending cuts came in September when a minister in Liz Truss’s government responded to a question from a Labour MP.

The then paymaster general Ed Argar said the system was “ready to launch” but they were “reviewing all new spending”. He added: “This will inform a final decision on the timing of any trial.”

Officials have been unable to provide any further update on the project after the October deadline passed, only that it is due to launch by the end of the year.

Labour MP Mike Amesbury, who has been asking questions of the government about the service, said the Tories were “all spin and no substance”.

The former shadow local government minister told HuffPost UK: “It’s government by baloney bingo; you have no idea what you’re going to win and more than likely you won’t win anything at all.

“So you have an emergency warning system that’s stalled over costs plus other broken promises around Northern Powerhouse Rail, investment zones revealed in September but now scrapped and a huge gulf between levelling up rhetoric and the reality of austerity.

“There’s a common theme here. A big fanfare around an announcement about some initiative or other. Policy made up on the hoof. Then quite often it never materialises or is not what was promised.

“No matter whether Johnson, Truss or Sunak is in charge, the Tories are all spin and no substance.“

It follows a raft of eye-catching initiatives from the Tory government that are yet to see light of day.

Others include Rishi Sunak’s NFT launch and an 888 phone line to help lone women.

Kit Malthouse.
Kit Malthouse.
OLI SCARFF via Getty Images

Under the alert system, emergency messages would be sent automatically to any smartphone that is switched on, although it would be possible to opt out by changing a mobile phone setting.

Trials of the system were held in Reading and East Suffolk earlier in the year.

The cabinet office said the alerts would give highly localised warnings of flooding, fires, extreme weather and public health emergencies.

When it was announced in August, the then chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Kit Malthouse went on a tour of the Met Office.

He said: “We will launch a new public emergency alerts system in the Autumn which will focus on extreme weather, revolutionising our ability to ‘warn and inform’ people who are in significant and immediate danger.

“These alerts will be sent direct to people’s mobiles giving details of the emergency - such as local flooding - explaining what to do and how to seek help.”

Meanwhile, Ian Cameron from the Met Office warned that we were seeing an increase in “extreme weather events” in the UK and overseas.

Just this summer the UK saw temperatures exceed 40C for the first time on record.

The Cabinet Office was approached for comment.


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