emergency alert system

Extreme Weather Warnings and More: The U.K. Just Tested Its Controversial New Emergency Alert System

Last year in the World Scientists’ Warning of a Climate Emergency 2022, climate experts warned how in the past three decades there has been “a roughly 40% increase in global greenhouse gas emissions,” resulting in an increased frequency of extreme weather events across the world.

The rapid rise of extreme weather events globally has resulted in a need for new measures to aid in offsetting their deadly potential, which includes the introduction of wireless emergency alerts capable of warning in advance of potentially dangerous weather events.

In recent days, the U.K. has also been working to introduce its own alert system, which underwent a test on Sunday at 3 PM local London time. The alert system will be capable of warning of a range of issues that include severe flooding, fires, or extreme weather in the phone user’s local vicinity, according to previous government-issued statements.

However, as the U.K. finally nears the implementation of its emergency alert system, now nearly a decade in the making, it seems to have also generated controversy among some who question the necessity of their widespread use.

Emergency Alerts Around the World

Despite their rise to prominence in recent years, emergency alerts are not a new concept. In fact, emergency alert systems have been employed for the past century in the form of air raid sirens, emergency announcements broadcast on television and radio, and, more recently, the emergency SMS systems we have today.

In Iceland, a country that is home to several volcanoes, warning systems are also in place to warn if a sudden eruption were to occur. Hikers ascending Iceland’s Hekla volcano, which has the potential to erupt at any time, can scan a QR code upon entering and will receive a text message directing them to safety if any sudden volcanic activity were to occur.

In the US, there are several emergency warnings for weather events that include tsunamis, flash floods, earthquakes, and tornadoes. These alerts are invaluable, especially at night, where if a tornado warning is issued while people are sleeping without a radio or TV on to alert a citizen, the loud sound from their phone can be enough to wake them and get them to safety in time.

Alert systems are also becoming more common in places that have not traditionally been associated with extreme weather events, such as the UK. Although the UK government hasn’t explicitly stated that these alerts are a response to climate change, their coverage of several issues that include flooding, extreme heat, and other potentially deadly events, all appear to be related to the global climate crisis.

Climate Crisis and Public Outcry

“Record-breaking temperatures seen in summer 2022 brought unprecedented numbers of heat-related deaths, wildfire incidents and significant infrastructure disruption,” read one recent assessment by the Climate Change Committee. Due to such impacts of the climate crisis on the UK, emergency alerts are now becoming essential to warn people of life-threatening weather conditions.

However, some public outcry has been generated regarding the U.K.’s new alert system. The Guardian reported on Friday that “accusations of nanny statism” and “warnings from domestic abuse charities over inadvertently alerting abusers” were among the fears being aired over recent tests of the system in the U.K., which finally occurred over the weekend.

Some on social media have encouraged others to disable the alerts as the U.K. begins testing its emergency system. In recent days, Google searches for “how to turn off emergency alerts” have been seen trending in the country.

Extreme Weather Warning

During COP27, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres spoke of how “vulnerable communities in climate hotspots are being blindsided by cascading climate disasters without any means of prior alert.” Guterres highlighted the effectiveness of the past use of alert warning systems in saving lives, although noting that roughly half the world cannot afford them, nor do many countries possess the existing infrastructure necessary to implement systems of their own.

Such factors contribute to why the U.N. Secretary-General introduced the Early Warnings for All Action Plan. This five-year investment plan will use US$ 3.1 billion to cover disaster risk knowledge, observations and forecasting, preparedness and response, and communication of early warnings. At a cost amounting to just 50 cents per person per year for the next five years, the plan aims to be able to reach everyone on Earth with potentially lifesaving emergency alerts.

Fundamentally, emergency alerts are an inexpensive and effective way to protect people around the world from a variety of concerns, chief among them the impending effects of climate change. As countries in Central Europe continue to experience the effects of climate change that have already impacted much of the developing world, it seems negligent to dismiss the UK’s extreme weather experience as insufficient to warrant emergency alerts.

As the U.K. continues the testing and implementation of its new alert system, the alarming prevalence of extreme weather events and other existential concerns means that alerts warning of such potential dangers are likely to become essential for more and more people around the world.

While public outcry and controversy may continue for a time, it is becoming increasingly evident that warning systems like these may ultimately prove to be vital components in the global effort to protect communities and save lives.

Ellie Sivins is a freelance writer based in Scotland. You can follow her work online on Medium