Every year Switzerland tests its sirens. The sirens were installed across the country starting in 1936. Testing was introduced in 1970 and became compulsory in 1988. Testing now takes place once a year on the first Wednesday of February starting at 13:30. Sirens must be sounded for three minutes. The tests finish at 14:00 for general sirens, and 15:00 for flood sirens. If an alarm sounds outside of these times it is to warn of something real.
Switzerland has around 5,000 fixed sirens and around 2,200 mobile ones. 600 of these are designed to issue flood warnings. Fixed alarms can be switched on centrally by cantonal police.
Outside of test times, when the sirens sound, you are required to listen to the radio, follow directions from the authorities and inform your neighbours. Informing neighbours is important because some may not hear the sirens, or may not understand the instructions, given the number of languages and linguistic regions in the country.
If you hear a flood siren, which has a distinctive deep sound lasting for 20 seconds repeated 12 times, then you should immediately leave the danger zone and follow the instructions of the authorities. Flood sirens are used only in risk zones near dams. Click here to hear a flood siren. Click here to hear a general siren.
The following advert, warning of the testing, is very entertaining. See if how many Swiss icons you can spot.
Some say the Swiss have their own version of Ireland’s Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, but we’ll be prepared.
At around 16:30, the government issued a statement stating that 99% of sirens tested had worked properly. Only 61 had problems, a result comparable to 2016.
Alarm information from the federal office for the protection of the population (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now