Comment: UK Government alert text message test

Comment: UK Government alert text message test

April 25, 20233 min read

The UK government recently conducted a nationwide test of their emergency alert system by sending out text messages to all mobile phone users in the country. The test has sparked a range of reactions from the public, including concerns about the effectiveness of the system and the potential for false alarms.

What did we learn from Sunday's test? Is it a concern that it apparently didn't work for everybody?

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 was useful to show people what to expect from the alarm system and to identify any aspects that need to be corrected and improved to make the system more effective.

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.

Is there a risk that public confidence has been undermined here? Is there also a risk of false alarms?

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. False alarms are always a possibility, but the benefits outweigh the risks.

Having the right information at the right time can help a lot of people in complicated circumstances. 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.

What are the key challenges?

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.

Anyone without a mobile phone device may have been side-lined – senior citizens, vulnerable people, children – anyone without a command of English and/or isn’t really technologically minded enough to have a mobile device is at risk of not receiving these messages.

Why do we need a system like this in place anyway?

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 is the absence of a plan, contingency or knowing what to do in an emergency that transforms an emergency or disaster into a crisis. 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.

Not only is there a human cost in an emergency but also economic cost. It is important that preparing for crises reduces the impact of both. It is also important to be aware that in times of crisis and emergency it is important to have unified response and this system is the start of that important process.

This article was written by David Cantliff, David Carrington,
Oscar Rodriguez-Espindola & Lauren Traczykowski
of Aston Crisis Management Centre

Connect with:
  • Dr Oscar Rodriguez-Espindola
    Dr Oscar Rodriguez-Espindola Senior Lecturer in Operations and Supply Chain Management

    Dr Rodriguez-Espindola researches supply chain management, operational research, humanitarian logistics and project management.

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