As the UK government prepares to send out a test alert to all smartphones this weekend, we look into whether UK citizens living in France will receive it and what the French equivalent system is.
What alert will be sent in the UK?
The alert will be in the style of a real ‘emergency alert’ and sent on Sunday (April 23) to every smartphone within the range of a UK signal mast. Sent at 15:00 BST (16:00 CEST), it will emit a loud siren or vibration lasting around 10 seconds.
It will work on all 4G and 5G networks in the UK, including those on ‘silent mode’. It will not work for older phones. Nor will it work on phones turned off or on ‘airplane mode’.
However, this alert is just a test and will not require people to take any action.
It is a test for the system’s future use, which could be used to alert people to emergencies such as severe flooding, extreme weather or fire risks.
Users can dismiss the alert by swiping away or hitting the ‘OK’ button.
Will the UK alert come through to UK smartphones in France?
The Connexion has confirmed that UK-registered smartphones in France will not receive the alert.
A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office of the UK government said: “The alerts are issued from mobile phone masts so only go to those phones in the local area that will receive the signal.
“In the case of the UK-wide test - it will go from all masts in the UK, but in future, when used in an emergency, it will only be from the masts in an affected area.”
Does France have a similar system?
Yes. A similar system, called FR-Alert, has been operational in France since last year. It can send messages to a group of people in a certain geographical area, as well as nationwide.
It was introduced under an EU obligation for member states called ‘Reverse 112’ (a reference to the Europe-wide 112 emergency call number).
The kinds of events that could lead to the system’s deployment include:
Natural disasters (floods, storms and cyclones, fires, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions)
Biological and chemical accidents (pollution, gas leaks, nuclear incidents)
Health accidents (epidemics, pandemics, agri-food incidents)
Technological and industrial accidents (breakdown of telecommunication systems, serious accidents on road, rail or air networks, industrial incidents)
A serious public security event or an act of terrorism.
Similar to the UK system, it does not work if the phone is off or on ‘flight mode’. But it does sound an alert even if the phone is on silent.
Messages contain details of the risk, its location, and any behaviour required by people in that area to ensure their protection.
No sign-up for the system is necessary, and it will not enable the state to gather the location information of users. As with the UK system, it works by cell broadcast, not by SMS. This means that it uses radio waves from telecommunication antennas, and is sent to all phones within a certain radius of the antenna.
Phones that are out of the 3G, 4G, or 5G signal will not receive the alert as a result.
France also has a system in which sirens sound on the first Wednesday of every month, in a system called the Réseau National d’Alerte.
It dates back to World War Two and is intended to warn people in the event of a major incident such as a cloud of toxic gas, a nuclear accident, or another imminent local catastrophe.
The test alarm sounds for a minute at noon on these days. The real alarm sounds for three sequences of one minute and 43 seconds, with a falling and rising tone, with a five-second gap between them.
If you hear the real alarm, the advice is generally to go home and close the doors and windows, and switch on the news on TV or radio. However, the government is looking into updating the system and increasing awareness of its meaning.
Do other countries use a similar system?
Yes. Similar alert mobile phone systems are in use in Japan, the US, Canada, and the Netherlands. In Japan, they are typically used to alert people to extreme weather risks and natural disasters.
In the US, messages can be sent directly from the president. However, in 2018, a warning of an incoming missile was mistakenly sent to residents in the US state of Hawaii, causing panic.