On Sunday 23rd April 2023 the government is planning to test its UK Emergency Alerts system. During the tests, mobile phones and tablets may vibrate, make a loud noise which sounds like a siren, even if set to silent, and read out the alert. Post-traumatic stress disorder charity, PTSD UK, has warned that people with PTSD or C-PTSD may find the alert alarming or find that it triggers flashbacks, panic attacks or other PTSD symptoms. Boyes Turner’s personal injury lawyers are supporting the charity’s efforts to raise awareness amongst those with PTSD who might be affected by the planned emergency alert system test, so that they can expect it, understand it and prepare themselves for the alert. What is PTSD? PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological condition suffered by adults and children who have experienced a traumatic, life-threatening or terrifying event. A diagnosis of PTSD must meet specific diagnostic criteria set out in the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), or International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). Our clients with PTSD may have been injured in accidents at work, on the road (RTAs), in rail, ferry or airline disasters, or as victims of crime, or have suffered trauma during negligent medical treatment. Complex post-traumatic stress disorder or C-PTSD is now widely recognised as a related condition, involving many of the symptoms of PTSD, which occurs as a result of repeated trauma over months or years, instead of a single event. People with PTSD may suffer a combination of distressing symptoms including nightmares, flashbacks and intrusive memories in which they relive the event. Other symptoms include fatigue, amnesia and poor concentration, and feelings of isolation, anger and guilt. They may suffer from hypervigilance and panic attacks and be easily startled or overreact to certain situations or triggers associated with the traumatic event. What is the UK Emergency Alerts system? The government advises that Emergency Alerts is a service run by the government to warn people when there is a nearby danger to life, such as from severe flooding, fires or extreme weather. Emergency alerts are only sent by the emergency services (such as the fire service), government departments, agencies or other public bodies which deal with emergency situations. The alerts give advice on how to stay safe in the emergency situation. In an emergency, mobile phone masts in the area surrounding the threat will send an alert to every compatible mobile phone or tablet within range of the mast. Mobile phones and tablets do not have to be connected to mobile data or wifi to receive alerts. The government does not need to know anyone’s phone number, home address or current location to send them an alert. Mobile phones and devices do not need to have location services switched on to receive alerts. The alerts work on all 4G and 5G phone networks in the UK, and on iPhones running iOS 14.5 or later, and Android phones and tablets running Android 11 or later. Earlier versions of Android may also be able to receive alerts. Android phones and tablets may receive more than one reminder about the same emergency alert. The government advises that people can check ‘emergency alerts’ on their device to check their settings. When the UK Emergency Alert system is tested on Sunday 23rd April 2023, mobile phones and tablets which receive the alert may: · make a loud noise like a siren, even if the device is set to silent; · vibrate; · read out the alert. The siren sound and vibration will last for about 10 seconds. Audio and vibration attention signals will let people with impaired vision or hearing know that they have an emergency alert. Emergency alerts will not be received by mobile phones or tablets which are: · switched off; · in airplane mode; · connected to a 2G or 3G network; · wifi only; · not compatible with the system’s requirements. The government advises that when someone receives an emergency alert, they should stop what they are doing and follow the instructions in the alert. It is illegal to use a hand-held device while driving or riding, so anyone driving should find somewhere safe to stop before reading the message, or tune into live radio and wait for bulletins until they are able to stop safely. During the Emergency Alerts test on Sunday 23rd April 2023, in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland, the alert will say: ‘This is a test of Emergency Alerts, a new UK government service that will warn you if there’s a life-threatening emergency nearby. In an actual emergency, follow the instructions in the alert to keep yourself and others safe. Visit gov.uk/alerts for more information. This is a test. You do not need to take any action.’ In Wales, the alert may also be in Welsh. Why is the emergency alert system test of concern to people with PTSD? PTSD UK are concerned about the effect that an unexpected siren-like alert may have on people who suffer symptoms of hyper-arousal and hypervigilance from PTSD and C-PTSD. People with these symptoms live in a persistent state of high alert, as if constantly on guard. Hypervigilance may cause them to overreact to loud or unexpected noises, as well as other triggers associated with their past traumatic experience. A trigger, such as an alarm, can cause PTSD sufferers to experience panic attacks or flashbacks in which they re-experience the traumatic event as if it were happening now. It is important that people with PTSD, who might be triggered by an unexpected siren or alarm, are aware of the planned test on Sunday 23rd April 2023, so that they understand what is happening and can prepare. For those who need to opt out of emergency alerts, the government advises that ‘severe alerts’ and ‘extreme alerts’ can be switched off in the ‘emergency alerts’ area within the settings on the mobile phone. However, both PTSD UK and the government advise that in the interests of safety in the event of future emergency situations, emergency alerts should not be switched off. If you have suffered serious physical or psychological injury as a result of an accident, or negligent medical care or assault, you can talk to an experienced solicitor, free and confidentially, to find out more about obtaining rehabilitation and compensation, by contacting us here.