Today, Switzerland will be alive with the sound of more than 8,000 sirens as the country carries out its annual alarm testing.
Siren testing takes place annually on the first Wednesday of February. Two types of devices will be checked this afternoon, starting with the general alarm at 1.30pm, followed in some areas by a water alarm.
Introduced during wartime, they are now used to alert the population to impending catastrophes, including the water alarm for people living in the area below dams.
Testing is carried out by the Federal Civil Protection Office, in coordination with the cantons, communities and dam operators, the aim being to keep these SFr15,000 ($14,200) high tech devices up to scratch.
When hearing a general alarm for real, people should turn on the radio and listen to the official instructions about what they should do to protect themselves and others. On hearing a water alarm, residents should leave the risk area immediately.
France and Austria each have a network and carry out testing. But Germany dismantled much of its system after the end of the Cold War and has left siren usage up to local authorities. Italy no longer has a network.
The sirens form an important part of the country’s civil protection programme, which also includes the provision of underground bunkers – did you know 95 per cent of the population have access to one?