Emergency alert: Three mobile users fail to receive UK test alert as review announced over failure

The emergency alerts are intended for use in life-threatening situations such as extreme weather, flooding and wildfires

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A review has been announced to find out why some mobile phone users did not receive the test of a new national emergency alert system over the weekend.

The alert made a loud sound and vibration as it was sent to mobiles, accompanied by a message telling people about the service, which is designed to warn about a life-threatening emergency nearby.

The 10-second alert was sent to every 4G and 5G device across the UK at 3pm on Sunday (23 April) and was received by millions of phone users. The notification displayed a message telling recipients that no action was needed in response to the test, while some smartphones read the message aloud.

The test message that appeared on phones said: “This is a test of Emergency Alerts, a new UK government service that will warn you if there’s a life-threatening emergency nearby. In a real emergency, follow the instructions in the alert to keep yourself and others safe. Visit gov.uk/alerts for more information. This is a test. You do not need to take any action.”

Some mobile phone users did not receive the test of a new national emergency alert system (Photo: Getty Images)Some mobile phone users did not receive the test of a new national emergency alert system (Photo: Getty Images)
Some mobile phone users did not receive the test of a new national emergency alert system (Photo: Getty Images)

Some users reported receiving the alert a minute early on social media, while others said they got repeat alerts, and some said they received the notification after they switched their phone back on, having been off at 3pm.

The Cabinet Office said the “vast majority of compatible phones” received the alert as part of what was said to be the biggest public communications exercise carried out in the UK. But the government department said it was aware that the alert was not delivered to some mobile phones.

According to government guidance, mobile users would not receive alerts if their phones were:

  • turned off or in airplane mode 
  • if they were connected to a 2G or 3G network
  • if they were only connected to wifi
  • if their phones were not compatible

A UK government spokesman said: “We have effectively completed the test of the UK-wide Emergency Alerts system, the biggest public communications exercise of its kind ever done. We are working with mobile network operators to review the outcome and any lessons learned.”

Three mobile users were among those who reported not receiving the communication test. The provider has said it will be working with the UK government to understand what went wrong.

In a statement, a spokesman for Three said: “We are aware that a number of customers have not received the test alert. We are working closely with the government to understand why and ensure it doesn’t happen when the system is in use.”

Additionally, a small number of people also reported on social media that they have been unable to make or receive calls since the 3pm alarm went off on their device. The Cabinet Office stated that engineers had not spotted a trend of phone functions failing to work afterwards, but said officials were in the early stages of analysing the results of the trial run.

Once established, the emergency alert system is designed to warn the public if there is a danger to life nearby and is intended to be used in life-threatening situations, such as extreme weather, flooding and wildfires. In future, a similarly loud notification and message will be sent to those the UK Government is seeking to reach.

Speaking before the test, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden conceded the drill could be “annoying”, but that it had the potential to save people’s lives once rolled out. The Cabinet minister denied the new system was an example of nanny state interference, telling the BBC he did not accept “that characterisation”.

People who do not wish to receive future alerts will be able to opt out using their device settings but officials hope the life-saving potential of the messages means users will keep them on.

The Cabinet Office also confirmed there was a spelling error in the Welsh language version of the alert text that was sent out. For the translation of the English phrase “others safe”, the message reportedly read “eraill yn Vogel” when it should have said “eraill yn ddiogel”.

A government spokesman said.“A technical error caused one word in the Welsh language version of the emergency test alert to be misspelt. The fact that this occurred in a test alert will mean we can rectify it in future.”