Teething problems demonstrate need for proper emergency alert

Moment UK emergency alert test goes off on phone

The British public must have full confidence in the national alert system trialled at the weekend, a team of experts has said, with millions of people not receiving messages during Sunday’s test. A review will be undertaken to establish why to find out why some mobiles were apparently excluded – even though the “vast majority of compatible phones” received the 10-second alert.

Customers on the Three mobile phone network were among those to report not receiving the communication test, with the network provider pledging to work with the UK Government to understand what had happened.

David Cantliff, a teaching fellow with Aston University’s Aston Crisis Management Centre, told “As we would expect, not everything went to plan. However, that is the point of preparing and doing this kind of test – to find out what parts of the system works before it is relied upon.

“The implementation of a new system rarely works perfectly.”

Sunday’s test had been useful as a way of showing people what to expect from the alarm system, and in order to identify any aspects which needed to be corrected and improved to make the system more effective, Mr Cantliff pointed out.

He continued: “It is not so much a concern that the test didn’t work for everyone; it is only of concern if we don’t know how to fix the problem and/or don’t take identified steps to fix it.”

Nevertheless Mr Cantliff identified several important challenges which the Government now needs to resolve.

He explained: “The government needs to manage its public awareness campaign – swiftly and fully.

“Public confidence need not be undermined as identifying the faults in the system was exactly what this kind of test was meant to do.

“However, public confidence will be undermined if the government doesn’t explain that to the public and isn’t completely transparent about what happened and what has been done to improve.”

He added: “Additionally, the government needs to ensure that the message is worded appropriately.

“The government should continue to keep messages short and simple so that there is no unnecessary worries or panic for the public.

“There are also issues related to people with anxiety or similar who may be overwhelmed by the noise the alarm makes and/or feel extra anxious from the threat of an emergency, even if it is simply a test alert.

“There are also those who suffer from domestic violence and may have secret phones so more communications on how to protect these vulnerable groups are required.”

In addition anyone without a mobile phone device – senior citizens, vulnerable people, children – faced the prospect of being “sidelined”, as did anyone without a command of English or who was not “technologically minded enough” to have a mobile device.

While false alarms were always a possibility, the benefits outweighed the risks, Mr Cantliff stressed.

He said: “Preparedness is fundamental to mitigate the impact of any negative situation. The UK government is trying to leverage technology available to the public to get them crucial information when facing a crisis.

“The value of the system is to make people aware of a major danger and provide information about the best course of action which can be key for their protection.

“Alert systems are a great way to warn people of an impending situation, but equally important is that there are measures in place to handle an emergency such as evacuation procedures and rehearsals.”

It was the absence of a plan which transformed an emergency or disaster into a crisis, Mr Cantliff said.

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He continued: “As such, we need a system like this because it aids in preparedness measures.

“The Aston Crisis Management Centre is focused on preparedness – whether it is for a business crisis or a natural hazard as we know that preparing for a crisis or disaster will help reduce the impact and may even help prevent some aspects of the disaster from happening.”

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.”

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.”

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