Press Release: Domestic abuse victims urged to act to prevent disclosure of secret emergency phones

18 April 2023

Ahead of this weekend’s test of a new national emergency alert system, victims of domestic abuse are being advised to take steps to ensure that any hidden phone they have for emergency use remains hidden. Many victims have such a phone hidden away for emergency use. But the location of those phones could be accidently given away to abusers when the UK tests its new national emergency alert at 3.00 pm on Sunday (23 April).

The emergency alerts will be used to warn people of imminent danger caused by severe weather, fire or terrorism events. When activated – as it will be during Sunday’s test, all devices connected to a 4G or 5G network will vibrate and sound an alarm for 10 seconds – even if the phone is on silent mode.

“The new emergency test system is a valuable new tool for public safety but it does come with its own risks”, said Gavin Drake, the director of the Jill Saward Organisation. “Fortunately, there are two easy ways to prevent the alerts going off – but both require action in advance.

“The first method is to turn off emergency alerts and severe alerts in the phone’s settings. iPhone users can do this by going to ‘Settings’ and then ‘Notification’. Scrolling to the bottom of that screen will allow users to switch these off. Android users should go to ‘Settings’ and then search for Emergency Alerts.

“The second method is to keep the phone in Airplane mode – this prevents connection to mobile networks and will stop the emergency alert reaching the phone.”

Gavin Drake added: “It is imperative that people who keep secret phones for emergency use keep these settings on even after Sunday’s test. As a national test, we have been told about Sunday’s alert and we can prepare. The next alert will likely come with no notice – as by their very nature they are sent in extreme emergencies which are not pre-planned.”

The emergency alerts do not track people’s phones, numbers or movements. They work through a radio signal sent from masts and cell towers to all phones in their area. No data is sent back from the phones to the mast and so the alerts can’t be used to track people.

The Jill Saward Organisation was set up to continue Jill Saward’s fight for victims and survivors of gender- and sex-based violence. Jill Saward died in January 2017 at the age of 51 after suffering a stroke.