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Emergency Alerts FAQ – national siren testing and how to mute it

The UK government has announced it will be testing a new smartphone emergency alert system later this month. That means almost every iPhone in the UK (plus most Android phones) will fire off a siren sound at 3pm on Sunday 23 April, to ensure the system is effective in the event of any kind of national catastrophe.

Similar systems are in effect all around the world, so even if you don’t live in the UK you may experience an emergency alert – or at least a government systems test – at some point.

With that in mind: what are emergency alerts, when will you get one, and can you turn them off?

Emergency alerts play a loud siren sound, plus a vibration pattern, for 10 full seconds when activated. They will sound even if your device is on mute, although you can easily dismiss the alert with a swipe or by pressing OK.

The government’s emergency departments can send these alerts without your phone number or location. They are able to bypass the normal notification channels to target every compatible smartphone in the country in one fell swoop.

These systems are developed for your safety, so in most circumstances keeping the alerts enabled is recommended. Emergency services can ping your device in case of events such as extreme weather, flooding, fires, terrorism, or all-out war. Pretty important stuff.

That said, there are several legitimate reasons you might not want your device sounding a deafening siren out of nowhere, especially just for a planned system test.

It has been noted that emergency alerts could cause an issue for victims of domestic abuse, alerting abusers to a hidden secondary smartphone. Unexpected sirens could potentially trigger PTSD in veterans. You might be attending a funeral at the designated testing time and don’t want to disturb the peace. In short, there are plenty of reasons someone may wish to opt out of the emergency alert system, either temporarily or permanently.

Luckily, opting out is easy to do. Here’s how.

Open the Settings app and tap Notifications. Scroll all the way to the bottom of this menu to find the Emergency Alerts section. Here you can switch off Extreme Alerts, Severe Alerts, or both. You will no longer receive emergency alerts.

Otherwise, UK readers should brace themselves for a brief interruption at 3pm on Sunday 23 April – but remember, it’s just a test. Hopefully, no genuine emergencies break at the same time!