Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Don't panic!

Tomorrow (Wednesday 1st Feb)  Switzerland will carry out the annual testing of its nationwide civil defense siren system just after lunch – and if you are not expecting it, this comes as quite a shock!
The Swiss government maintains a network of around 7,200 sirens across the country as a public warning system for use in case of a national emergency, such as a natural disaster or breakdown of a nuclear power plant.  The sirens were originally established to warn of bomb threat during WWII. They were also relied upon throughout the Cold War when Switzerland feared being caught in the crossfire of a nuclear attack, and has been kept ever since.
There are two types of warning sirens. The first, indicating general disaster, is a continuous oscillating siren lasting around a minute. The second, used to warn people who live beneath dams of  impending water-related catastrophe, is a series of 12 bursts of 20 seconds each at ten-second intervals. You can hear samples here.
They are tested on the first Wednesday of February each year. The general alarm will be tested at 1.30pm for around half an hour. The water alarm test follows at 2.15pm in applicable areas.
However, if you hear the alarm and it’s NOT the first Wednesday in February, we’re in trouble. In the case of the general alarm, the government’s Office for the Protection of the Population (FOCP) advises that you listen to the radio, follow instructions and tell your neighbours to do the same. If you live below a dam and you hear the water alarm, there's no time to wait for instructions – just run!
The government is developing a more up-to-date system - a smartphone app that would activate a push notification in case of disaster or terrorism. The Alertswiss system is already in use but a new, more sophisticated version should be ready by the end of this year and will be rolled out across the country in 2018.


  1. Although I was used to general sirenes testing every first Wednesday in each month (at noon) back in the Czech Republic, I can remember how the first sirene testing here in Switzerland surprised me, especially its length :O Thank you for remembering me not to panic tomorrow ;)

  2. I grew up hearing the scary sirens every once in a while. My Mom always told me it was a reminder to be grateful to live in such a safe country. (Her having grown up in Israel) I'll take it :-)

  3. Glad to read your explanation of the sirens. I was just cursing them but strangely my two year old twins have slept through them without a peep...

  4. Great title! It's good to learn that there are more modern updates to the way residents here get informed. In such a tech-savvy age, I won't be surprise if everyone automatically gets an alert on their mobile phones too

  5. Oh no - I'd be sad to see the end of the sirens. Surely in the worst case scenario, everyone's mobile phones will fail anyway? Keep the sirens, I say!

    1. I know what you mean Claire. There is something strangely reassuring about the sirens going off each year. Maybe we can have both!

  6. Although I've heard these kinds of tests before, and we grew up having tornado siren tests as kids, somehow, this week, my emotions were on high and I couldn't help but imagine how awful it must be to hear these sirens in a true emergency. I feel so lucky to have only a test.

  7. One of the other bloggers from our group shared this and I posted it on my fb as well. (https://www.facebook.com/anamericaninbasel/posts/1058209487642095)

    Our first year here, my husband was warned about the tests by his coworkers, but he forgot to pass the information along to me! I was so freaked out!