Domestic abuse victims advised to turn off phones for UK emergency alert test – The Guardian

Fears that siren-like sound at 3pm on Sunday could give away location of secret devices
People at risk of domestic abuse have been advised to turn off any mobile device they want to keep hidden next Sunday, as ministers prepare to launch the first nationwide test of a new emergency alert system.
The warning will cause people’s phones and tablets to produce a siren-like sound. But there are fears the test, which takes place at 3pm on Sunday, could give away the location of secret devices.
The government has stressed that the alarm will not sound if the phone is switched off or put on airplane mode.
The advice was issued after consultation with domestic abuse charities, who warned of the “very real risk” to those in danger of domestic abuse – many of whom keep second phones as a lifeline that could help them flee their abuser.
The government said people should follow the Refuge charity’s advice and switch off their devices or put them on airplane mode for the duration of the test.
On Monday, Emma Pickering, the senior operations tech abuse manager at Refuge, said: “Next week, the government plans to send a test alert to all devices including tablets, as well as phones. These alerts will come through as a loud siren even if devices are on silent, and could alert an abuser to a concealed device.
“We are pleased that the government is now issuing proactive communications which highlight the very real risk of these alerts to survivors of domestic abuse, who may have hidden or secret phones.
“Refuge’s technology-facilitated abuse and economic empowerment team have put together two videos on how to turn these alerts off, both on Android phones and on iPhones for anyone that is concerned that these alerts will put their safety at risk. We want to ensure as many survivors as possible know how to ensure these alerts are turned off on their hidden devices.
“We have more information on securing your devices – for example your location settings or privacy settings – on”
The government explained that the alert system was not intended to be used if there was a marauding terrorist because the alerts could give away people’s hiding places.
Instead, the alerts are initially intended to be used in cases of extreme weather where there is a threat to life. But they may be branched out in time, including for other forms of terrorist attack, as well as for incidents where an area may need to be cleared, such as car bombs, nuclear threats and dangerous criminals on the loose.
In any case, they are only intended to be used where there is a risk to life or limb, or if there is the potential for extreme damage to property.
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Besides people at risk of violence, the government said people who did not want to be distracted or disturbed, such as people who planned to be driving at 3pm on Sunday, should also disable the feature or turn off their phones.
The system sends an emergency alert to devices which will sound for 10 seconds and a notification will appear that needs to be cleared before the phone can be used again.
It is understood that most devices should receive the signal instantly, but some may need to be switched off for a minute or so to ensure the alert does not sound. Once broadcast of the signal stops, the alert will not sound. Therefore, unlike with an SMS, phones being switched back on afterwards will not belatedly alert.
In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. Other international helplines may be found via


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