Bild: Pixabay/Keystone
Bild: Pixabay/Keystone
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Alarm sirens test today: But nobody understands the signals

As every year on the first Wednesday in February, the alarm sirens are going to be tested at 1.30pm today. Even if there are still unanswered questions, the population will be alarmed by an app in the future. Enjoy the music as long as it plays!

There is no escape to hear the 5,000 stationary and 2,200 mobile sirens which will start howling at the same time today.

Two alarm signals instead of many

The musical variety used to be bigger before 2004 when there were diverse and specific alarm signals. But just like the emergency call numbers, the variety was more of a hindrance: Hardly anyone knew the significance of each melody. Therefore, the Federal Office for Civil Protection (FOCP) reduced the number to only two melodies: A “general alarm” and a “water alarm”.

“Water alarm” does not signify a warning about the rising water level on the Rhine after heavy rain but is used near dam walls if flooding is expected. 60 per cent of electricity in Switzerland is produced by hydropower, and dams are a potential danger. The Zervreila dam in Vals, for example, holds 100 million cubic metres of water. This amount of water can eradicate an entire valley with one flood within a very short time. Every second counts when it comes to escaping the endangered area.

In Basel, the “water alarm” plays a minor role: There is only a small danger at the dam in Birsfelden, and the planned water storage on Chrischona will not be built according to a decision by the government in 2013.

“General alarm” can be heard when there is a “possible general threat to the population,” said the FOCP. This includes chemical alarms to terror threats. It makes sense to have a separate melody for the “water alarm” since if one can hear the signal for a “general alarm”, this means: waiting and following the instructions. After such a wave siren melody, there is always information available on the radio.

And so I hope you hear this song on the radio…

But who listens to the radio nowadays? The future is the Internet. And fittingly, there is also an app: Alertswiss. The advantage of the app is that warnings can be placed more accurately than with a comprehensive sound. The app can spread specific warnings – for instance, when a terror attack is just about to happen. False alarms can also be rectified much easier. This doesn’t only happen in Hawaii: In August, sirens terrified the population with a false alarm. The FOCP also maintains a Twitter and a Facebook account. Last year, associations of deaf people drew attention by protesting against sirens which naturally can’t be heard by them. An attempt to warn people by text messages failed. Now, the app should help.

However: At the same time, it is urgently recommended to use the phone and mobile network only in case of emergencies to avoid a system breakdown. Let’s be honest: In a catastrophic situation, the mobile network would not last longer than at midnight at New Year’s Eve. What to do when the network breaks down? “It is recommended to have a radio with batteries ready,” the official solution states. Or waiting for the neighbour who still has one and knows what to do, e.g. keeping people informed who don’t have such technology. “We are currently working on a multi-channel-strategy,” said Dr Kurt Münger, communication manager at the FOCP and the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport. To avoid breakdowns, all channels will be used to spread information. Radio and sirens are still “very well secured against a possible breakdown of the electricity, Internet, and mobile network,” said Dr Münger.

If you want to read more local news of today, click here.