If Nuclear War broke out, how would you be notified today?

Telephone Exhange in Burlington - (Crown Copyright)Telephone Exhange in Burlington - (Crown Copyright)




During the cold war a series of sirens at strategic locations around the UK would alert people that an attack was coming, later this was combined with broadcast messages including the infamous “Attack Warning Red – seek immediate shelter!” message. But know, with hundreds of TV channels and radio stations and the sirens gone, how would you be alerted today?

It was a question we pondered so we asked the Government.

In the event of a Nuclear Attack, the Cabinet Office told us that the plan would be to alert members of the public using “social and broadcast media” and telling them to “take shelter indoors with windows and doors closed to provide protection from breathing in radioactive material”. 

Presumably by social media, they are talking about Twitter and Facebook, Twitter has already been used for alerting on major emergencies such as terrorist attacks.

The broadcast media option probably hasn’t changed much since the Cold War days, with the exception of being more widespread. All major TV broadcasters are likely to have a system in place for showing an emergency warning on its network and we know that the BBC have a prepared script.

The UK Publishes a National Risk Register which sets out what you should do in the event of an attack, it can be read here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-risk-register-of-civil-emergencies-2017-edition

BBC In Hiding

In a recent freedom of information request we asked the BBC about Protected Area Wood Norton, or PAWN. PAWN is the the BBC’s emergency bunker located at the BBC Academy at Worcestershire. It was built to be the centre of the BBC’s Wartime Broadcasting Service and allow broadcasting to continue after a nuclear attack.

Read More: Protected Area Wood Norton

The BBC would give no specific information as to whether PAWN still formed part of the broadcast network as it said it couldn’t comment on current facilities. This would indicate that PAWN is still very much part of the BBC’s plans.

Mobile Network

The facility exists for mobile providers, Vodafone, o2, Three or EE to send out messages to all of its subscribers in the event of a national emergency however 2 networks we spoke to said no actual agreements are in place with the government to facilitate that system. It’s understood that the UK Government can commandeer communication networks in times of national crisis though.

So get yourself on Twitter….

As with most things these days, social media is often the first place news breaks so its a good idea to get yourself on it. Not only will you receive national emergency information, you will be the first to know about hostilities building up too!

But between Social Media, TV and Radio, its likely that “Attack Warning Red” will be hard to miss! (and if it comes, don’t forget, duck and cover!)

What do I do when i hear the warning?

Find out more:

i. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004 places a statutory duty on Category 1 emergency responders to “maintain arrangements to warn the public, and to provide information and advice to the public, if an emergency is likely to occur or has occurred”. A list of Category 1 emergency responders is provided in Parts 1 and 2 of Schedule 1 of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004, here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/36/schedule/1

ii. This warning and informing function is delivered in a variety of ways. In instances when it is desirable to alert large numbers of people quickly to an imminent risk, responders can use a range of channels. These include social and broadcast media platforms, which have very widespread coverage and usage in the UK, giving members of the public direct and rapid access to relevant information in an emergency.

iii. Further information on warning and informing the public is available on the gov.uk website. The key piece of guidance for emergency responders is entitled ‘Emergency Preparedness’ and is available from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/emergency-preparedness

iv. Additional guidance on warning and informing can be found in the Emergency Response and Recovery guidance, which accompanies Emergency Preparedness guidance. Chapter 8, ‘Working with the Media’, includes information on warning and informing, and is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/emergency-response-and-recovery

v. You may also be interested in the work of the National Steering Committee on Warning & Informing the Public, an independent advisory group focusing on best practice in this area. More information can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/national-steering-committee-on-warninginforming-the-public.




About the Author

Britains Cold War
Consisting of historians, nuclear weapons and government planning experts Britain's Cold War provides news and information about The Cold War, Britain's Cold War and the new emerging Cold War often dubbed Cold War II. With more documents becoming declassified every day we learn a little bit more about what really went on between the end of World War II and the late 1990's.

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