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National Emergency Test

Volume 732: debated on Thursday 11 May 2023

6. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the national emergency test on 23 April 2023. (904856)

Last month’s UK-wide emergency alert was the largest simultaneous public message in British history. We reached 93% of eligible phones in the country within three minutes of the test alert being sent from Cobra. The system is now fully operable in the event of a real emergency and is a vital tool in our toolkit to keep people safe.

I congratulate the Department on conducting a test. What will happen with the 7% who were not reached? Will there be a follow-up test? My right hon. Friend says that the system is fully functional. What kind of things will these tests be used for in the future? Will it be regional, national or local emergencies?

The whole point of having a test is to expose where there are challenges. Subsequent to the test, I met with the chief executive of Three, on which network the principal challenges lay, and I am confident that they have pretty much taken the actions needed to ensure that we will get the fuller coverage that is required. It was a one-off test. I do not see any need for a further such test in the foreseeable future. We will target the system as locally as possible—we can do so at the level of even a mast. It will be used in circumstances where people’s lives are at risk; it is a very high bar for usage.

During a national emergency, it is the most vulnerable who are likely to be the most in need, but they are also the most likely to be digitally excluded. In the absence of a digital inclusion strategy or even target from the Government since 2014, we do not know where those people are. In response to the test, what steps will the right hon. Gentleman take to ensure that those who are digitally excluded will be better included and reached in a national emergency?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. Even under the existing test, we reached 93% of people, so the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom did receive that alert, and by the time we have dealt with the Three issues, it will be a much larger number. We continue to engage with relevant charities and other organisations to ensure that people who still do not have access to mobile phone technology are able to receive appropriate alerts. This sits alongside many other measures that we take to inform people of risks.