Government launches SMS emergency alert trial


The Government is to test an SMS alert system in Glasgow, Suffolk and Yorkshire to help gauge public reaction to receiving texts about emergency situations.

Customers will be able to sign up to receive text alerts. Around 50,000 texts are expected to be sent and pilots will take place in Easingwold, in North Yorkshire, Leiston, in Suffolk, and Glasgow city centre.

Mobile operators EE, Vodafone and O2 are to help with the trials, said the Cabinet Office, which is spearheading the tests.

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.

The pilot will compare two systems: the cell broadcast system (CBS) used in the US and the Netherlands, and a location-based SMS system deployed in Australia.

CBS sends text-like messages to all devices in a given cell area while location-based SMS systems send text messages to all numbers in a specific location.

CBS operates on a different channel to voice and SMS (texts) and therefore does not suffer from nor contribute to network congestion, according to the Cabinet Office.

Francis Maude, Cabinet Office minister, said he welcomed the operators involvement in the trials, adding the mobile alerts would be an essential part of the Government's drive to improve the safety of UK residents.

"The Government 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," he said.

"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."

He added that getting SMS messages to people in an emergency was important.

"Ensuring 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," he said.

Members of the public living within these areas, interested in taking part should contact the Cabinet Office.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.