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UK’s ‘emergency alerts’ system to launch this year as Britons fret over nuclear war


Ukraine: Sirens cause residents to take cover in Kiev

Air raid sirens sounded in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv on Thursday morning as Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the former Soviet nation. Further sirens sounded in Lviv, western Ukraine, this morning as fighting continues to rage through much of Ukraine. Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said this morning that Russian forces are targeting dozens of civilian sites, with 33 hit in the past 24 hours. After rapid advances from multiple fronts in the north, east, and south of Ukraine, Russian forces are believed to be closing in on Kyiv.

Putin has always been unpredictable, but experts believe his behaviour has become more erratic in recent months.

Air raid sirens were first installed in the UK during World War 2, placed on top of tall buildings to maximise their reach.

They produced two signals, the first of which was a rising and falling signal to act as a warning, and the second was a single, continuous note to give the all-clear.

The majority of them were dismantled by the Nineties, meaning they are unlikely to be used again. The UK is therefore set to launch a new alert system.

‘Emergency Alerts’ is a new Government service expected to launch this year.

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Uk emergency alerts system

UK’s ‘emergency alerts’ system to launch this year amid war fears (Image: GETTY/Gov.uk)

Kyiv bomb damage

A fire-damaged building in Kyiv following a 4am attack from Russian forces. (Image: GETTY)

It will warn if there is a danger to life. According to Gov.uk, alerts may be sent about severe flooding, fires, explosions and public health emergencies.

Upon receiving an alert, phones or tablets may make a loud siren-like sound even if the device is set on silent, vibrate or read out the alert.

The sound and vibration will last for approximately 10 seconds.

The alerts are broadcast from mobile phone masts, and every compatible device in range will receive an alert.

The Government’s website urges recipients to “stop what you’re doing and follow the instructions in the alert”, as they can sometimes include a phone number or a link for further information.

Air raid siren

An air raid siren is installed in London during World War 2. (Image: GETTY)

Every country will have their own unique warning system for nuclear missiles — which could potentially reach the UK from Russia within 20 minutes.

America and Japan have their own distinctive alerts, using a mix of text messages, TV bulletins and sirens.

According to a 2018 report in The Sun, the UK’s emergency alerts system has not been designed with missile attacks in mind, instead designed to provide information about natural disasters or industrial accidents.

The report said: “Rather than texts, it’s more likely that the UK’s secretive missile warning system will revolve around more traditional alerts via TV and radio, orchestrated by the BBC.”

During the Cold War, a warning system was in place that would see the BBC take over the airwaves, broadcasting a “four minute warning” and urging Britons to head for shelter.

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Air raid siren

Sirens were installed on top of buildings for maximum effect. (Image: GETTY)

These plans are no longer in use, however.

Professor John Preston, a preparedness expert at the University of Essex, told the newspaper that the BBC may already have a new warning system ready, and could beam it out in the event of a nuclear missile attack.

He said: “The BBC has a policy called ‘Connecting in a Crisis’. It will have protocols in place but we, as the public, don’t know what they are.”

Warning through major national broadcasters, Prof Preston claimed, could pose a problem.

He explained: “We don’t know what the procedure is for warning the population as a whole, other than it’ll probably be through major national broadcasters.

Emergency alerts

How the alert would look. (Image: Gov.uk)

“And that’s a big problem in terms of believing the message when it appears.

“If something appears during EastEnders people may think it’s a hoax, a spoof or part of normal programming.”

He added: “It’s really important that people know in advance what these things look like so they can respond to them.

“Otherwise people do think it’s a hoax or won’t believe it.”

The growing conflict in Ukraine has put the threat of nuclear war back on the agenda, even if it is a distant one.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former British Army chemical and nuclear weapons expert, told The Telegraph this week that the UK might need to “dust off” its nuclear defence infrastructure.

He added that there are “probably a lot of civil servants running around at the moment making preparations”.

Nonetheless, most experts predict nuclear war would never happen, due to the enormous risk it brings.

Jon Wolfsthal, former National Security council official, told The Telegraph: “There’s no evidence to suggest that [Putin is] suicidal or is eager to initiate the use of nuclear weapons, that doesn’t mean things can’t get out of control.”

A senior official within the Pentagon also told the newspaper: “We don’t see an increased threat in that regard — that’s as far as I’ll go.”

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