Emergency alerts: How they work in other countries — including a few things that went wrong | Tech News

The UK is building its own emergency alert system to warn people of any immediate public safety risks.

It sends notifications to tens of millions of mobile phones across the country whenever lives are threatened, from extreme fires to severe flooding.

Only emergency services, government departments and other public bodies can send alerts.

be ahead of first national test On Sunday, April 23, here are some examples of how existing mobile emergency alert systems are working in other countries.


U.S. Use the “Wireless Emergency Alert” system, which looks like a text message, as in the UK, but with bespoke sound and vibration patterns to get your attention.

Alerts are sent over a cell tower and are slightly longer than a tweet, with a maximum of 360 characters each, including details such as the type of emergency and the action you should take.

They will also have a time stamp and tell you which agency issued the warning.

National, state and local public safety officials can all send them — as can the National Weather Service and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

You can even get one from the President if the situation calls for it.

But it doesn’t always go according to plan. In 2018, Hawaiian authorities accidentally Warns people of an impending ballistic missile attack.

The alert was withdrawn after 38 minutes.Figure: Gene Park
Figure: Gene Park


JapanThe cell phone alerts are part of a wider program called J-ALERT, which also broadcasts warnings on television, outdoor speakers, radio and email.

Alerts are sent via push notification to any phone with a Japan Network SIM card, but there is also a specific app that supports J-ALERT – handy if you’re traveling.

These include the disaster prevention app NERV and the NHK world TV news app.

J-ALERT is used for natural disasters such as earthquakes – sometimes North Korea Tests Ballistic Missile (true, in this case).

This Japanese emergency alert came after a ballistic missile launch in 2017
This Japanese emergency alert came after a ballistic missile launch in 2017


emergency alert Australia It’s literally phone calls and texts.

The country’s early warning system, used by emergency services in the event of an incident such as bush fire Send voice messages to landlines and text messages to cell phones when someone goes missing.

That means there’s a number that encourages people to add to their contacts rather than block them: +61 444 444 444.

new Zealand

The system is in new Zealand The way it works in the US is more similar to how it works in Australia, the alert is broadcast from the signal mast to any capable phone.

But it does mean older phones may be out of luck, and the government keeps a list of all supported models on its website. People are also encouraged to make sure their device’s software is fully up to date.

New Zealand’s emergency alerts are getting a good workout during this time Coronavirus disease Epidemics, but only when there is a “serious threat to life, health or property”.

Like the upcoming trial in the UK, test alerts will be issued sporadically.

Examples of New Zealand emergency alerts issued during a pandemic
Examples of New Zealand emergency alerts issued during a pandemic


All wireless service providers in Canada Need to send emergency alerts to devices on their network.

They have a distinctive way of vibrating that distinguishes them from other notifications, but use the same tone that people recognize from radio and TV broadcast alerts.

Emergency services send them to warn of “imminent or possible danger”, including floods, fires and tornadoes.

They can also be used in other events – for example, also in the case of missing children. As in the UK, any alerts can be raised at an extremely local level.

Test alerts are sent out twice a year, usually in May and November.

Emergency siren warns millions of ‘accident’ at nuclear plant near Toronto in 2020 was pushed out by mistake.

People in Ontario receive emergency alert warning for Pickering nuclear accident
People in Ontario receive emergency alert warning for Pickering nuclear accident


NL-Alert, which seems to be inspired by the Japanese name, is the Dutch alert system.

It is used in life-threatening situations such as fires, terrorist attacks or public health emergencies.

In contrast, the UK system is understood to have not been designed with terrorist attacks in mind.

Again, the system uses cell towers to avoid overloading the phone network, so no one’s number is needed to push an alert.

Like Canada, the government sends out tests twice a year – on the first Monday in June and at noon in December.

An added feature of NL-Alert is that it is increasingly being rolled out to digital ad displays and signs, with warnings aligned with those sent to mobile phones. They show up in places like bus stops and train stations.

Emergency alerts in the Netherlands
Emergency alerts in the Netherlands


Another familiar name, FR-Alert, has been operating in France since 2022.

It sends mobile phone notifications to everyone in the area, warning of major events, including extreme weather, health emergencies such as pandemics, serious road and rail accidents, and terrorist attacks.

The alert comes with its own sound and vibration and includes details on the nature of the risk, location, the authority behind the warning and any advice – like staying home or leaving the area.

Like systems in most other countries, they broadcast via masts rather than standard text messages – but people with older devices limited to 2G and 3G will receive text messages.

This is how the UK government has had to issue a national alert before, e.g. lockdown announcements during a pandemic.

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