Every year, Switzerland tests its apocalyptic-sounding sirens on the first Wednesday of February. This year it will be done on 7 February 2018, starting at 13:30. Sirens will 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.
Sirens were installed across the country starting in 1936 and testing was introduced in 1970, becoming compulsory in 1988. 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.
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, features a sheep and is very entertaining. See 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.
Update: The Federal Office for Civil Protection reported on 7 February 2018 that the testing revealed that 98% of general sirens were working correctly. On the other hand there were problems with flood sirens in several cantons. These issues will be dealt with as quickly as possible, it said.
Alarm information from the federal office for the protection of the population (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now