Alarm sirens will be tested this Wednesday 1:30pm across Switzerland. Don’t be scared this is only a test by the Swiss Federal Civil Protection Office.

All Swiss sirens will go off On Wednesday, February 3, 2016, the Swiss federal alarm siren network will be tested at 1:30pm. Some 8’000 sirens will howl in every city,  town, and urban area. 99% of Switzerland’s population will hear at least one siren.
Two tests starting at 1:30pm “General Alarm” and “Water Alarm” are tested. At 1:30pm, “General Alarm” is triggered in all of Switzerland. It will be a regularly ascending and descending wail/howl lasting for one minute. This test can last until 2pm and within Basel you will likely hear several sirens at the same time from different locations. At 2:15pm, but no later than 3pm, “Water Alarm” is being tested in endangered areas (like underneath dams). It consists of twelve low continuous tones of 20 seconds at intervals of 10 seconds each.
What to do? Don’t be scared! Depending were you are, this can be a surreal feeling – smiliar to being in a Hollywood movie or experiencing Switzerland during wartimes. As eery as this test can be, calm down, it is only an annual test done by the Swiss Federal Civil Protection Office! In case you will hear the sirens outside the announced maintenance time, it means that a threat is possible. In this case, the population is asked to listen to the radio, follow the instructions of Swiss authorities, and inform your neighbors. The “Water Alarm” always sounds after “General Alarm.” If you are in a water endangered area, you must leave immediately! More information and rules of conduct can be found on Teletext page 680 (on the TV) and the official Swiss government webpage
Needed during war and modern times The Swiss siren network is for times of war and peace. During the Second World War, the sirens were used when air bombings were anticipated and during the Cold War they were maintained for possible military interventions. Along with the bunkers that many Swiss homes have, as well as other installations, the sirens are part of Switzerland’s civil defense strategie. In peace time, the Swiss siren network is used for possible catastrophies and emergencies. Among the many post-war siren network uses, the most famous in Basel was the “Sandoz chemical spill” environmental dissaster.  
On November 1, 1986, at 0:19am, a large fire at Sandoz next to Muttenz broke out. 1’350 tons of chemicals were part of the blaze, flames reached 60 meters (180 feet) high, and the heavy smoke smelled like rotten eggs. Whether the smell was toxic was not known and a small circle of local authorities raised the question of evacuating Basel. How appropriate that was is still being discussed, fact, however, is that in the early morning hours Basel’s sirens went active. “General Alam” was triggered and sirens in the Basel region went off. Just months after the Chernobil nuclear dissaster, a frightened population tried to get any possible information. For that reason, police and fire fighters informed residents over loudspeakers to stay at home and close their windows. Many sealed any cracks in their windows with tape, filled up their bath tubs with emergency water, and feared the worst. Around 6am, the fire was under control and shortly before 7am the general alarm was cancelled. In the aftermath it turned out that this catastrophy was largely under-estimated. It became the largest chemical fire catastrophe in Swiss history. Basel’s Rhine river was red and biologically dead for months (due to toxic waste water), Basel’s population went to the streets, a press conference ended in turmults, and eventually, improvements to pharmaceutical safety standards, as well as changes to governmental regulations, laws, and the civil defence warning system were made.  
For such catastrophies, and many other possibilites, the Swiss sirene alarm test is needed – during times of war and peace!
This WisdomWednesday was published:
February 2, 2016 (early)

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