The UK government has revealed that one in five compatible smartphones in the country did not receive Sunday’s emergency alert. The alert was the first nationwide test of a new system designed to warn people of dangerous situations, such as floods or terror attacks.
The Cabinet Office estimated that 80% of eligible phones received the alert, which they deemed a “successful test”. However, officials are now working with Three UK, some of whose customers did not get the alert. The alert included a short message, accompanied by a loud ten-second noise and vibration. Smartphones that were turned off or on aeroplane mode did not receive it.
Deputy Prime Minister and Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said in a statement to Parliament that Sunday’s test was a “critical step forward” in the UK’s ability to respond to emergencies. He added that it was authorised just after 14.59 BST in order to “minimise disruption” to events scheduled to start at 15.00 BST.
Mr Dowden also blamed a “small autocorrect” for a Welsh language error included in the bilingual Welsh-English version of the alert sent to people in Wales. He added that people travelling between England and Wales during the test would have received two alerts, and this would be “addressed as part of the lessons learned exercise”.
Sunday’s alert was sent to 4G and 5G phone networks, on iPhones running iOS 14.5 or later or phones and tablets running Android 11 or later. Before the test, the government estimated this meant nearly 90% of mobile phones in the UK would be eligible to receive it.
The Cabinet Office stated that there are currently no plans for a further UK-wide test, but there are likely to be further public tests of the system in the coming years. Many countries around the world use emergency-alert systems, including the United States, the Netherlands and Japan.
The government’s emergency alert test has highlighted some issues with the system, such as some customers of Three UK not receiving the alert and a Welsh language error included in the bilingual Welsh-English version of the alert sent to people in Wales. However, officials have deemed the test a success overall, with 80% of eligible phones receiving it. The Cabinet Office is now working with Three UK to ensure that this issue does not occur with future emergency alerts. Further public tests of the system are likely to take place in the coming years.