It will be loud on Thursday, December 8th

EThere is a certain amount of nervousness shortly before the second warning day since reunification this Thursday. From the first day of warning two years ago, many in the population had not noticed anything. If there had actually been a nationwide catastrophe on September 10, 2020 – a significant proportion of citizens would have found out much too late.

On the one hand, that was terrifying. On the other hand, the first warning day served its purpose: it revealed the devastating weaknesses in German civil protection. “That was actually something very good,” says Martin Voss. “Otherwise nobody would have talked about the fact that we don’t have a functioning warning infrastructure.” The social scientist researches disasters and resilience at Freie Universität Berlin. He does not expect any significant improvements on this second warning day. But he does commend the government for two years on the verge of introducing the “second best” warning system after the good old siren: cell broadcast.

The technology should make it possible for a test warning message to be played out on all compatible mobile phones in Germany this Thursday at eleven o’clock. Depending on the mobile operator, other signals will accompany the message. at Vodafone about a warning tone will be shrill. In this case, compatible means that the devices run on Android 11 or iOS 15.6.1 operating systems (possible on all iPhones from model 6s onwards). If all goes well – and you’re not in a dead zone – the test alert should reach you without further ado. 45 minutes later, the authorities send a test all-clear message.

In the event of a power failure, cell broadcast is of no use

Cell broadcast is scheduled to officially launch on February 23, 2023. Other European countries, Japan and America are already using the technology. It enables the authorities to anonymously reach all mobile phones dialed into a cell tower. The warnings can also be limited to certain regions. The technology should also work when phone calls are not possible due to network overload.

However, there is one scenario in which cell broadcast is no longer of any use either: in the event of a power failure, the authorities and emergency services have to switch to other media, which will also be tested on Thursday. By 11 a.m., the warnings will be broadcast to more than 100 radio and television stations. In some cities, the police, public order office or fire brigade will drive through the streets with loudspeaker vans. And sometimes the sirens will blare too – some of them are independent of the electricity grid.

They are the biggest construction site in the German disaster warning chaos. After the Cold War, people felt so safe that they dismantled most of the sirens. At the time, hardly anyone was thinking about the consequences of the climate crisis, and the World Trade Center was still towering over the New York sky. It was not until September 11th and the devastating Elbe flood in 2002 that people gradually realized that the sirens could really be used. The shockingly quiet first warning day of 2020 and the flood in the summer of last year also helped to rethink. At least 134 people lost their lives in the Ahr Valley at the time, and many had not been warned of the deadly masses of water. In the meantime, a new siren network with 85 systems on roofs and masts has been installed in the valley for two million euros, and there was already a successful test alarm there in September.

It will remain quiet in Berlin and Stuttgart

Since it is expensive and time-consuming to reinstall sirens and digitize old ones, it will remain quiet in many places this year. In Berlin for example. Or in Stuttgart, where the city only vaguely announces: “The construction of a city-wide siren warning is planned for the coming years.” The federal government has made around 88 million euros available for the siren reconstruction. That’s far from enough, according to the states. Schleswig-Holstein alone has announced a financing requirement of 55 million euros.

If the sirens work, the next construction site can be heard straight away: the tonal chaos. The siren signals differ so greatly from city to city that it is difficult for the uninformed to distinguish between the warning and the all-clear. Bielefeld, for example, will start on Thursday with a one-minute continuous tone (actually considered an all-clear signal), five minutes later the sirens will howl for a minute, rising and falling (actually considered a warning signal), only for another five minutes later the one-minute continuous tone of to give himself In other cities, the sirens wail for only 12 seconds, rising and falling. In Wiesbaden you will hear the warning tone for one minute at eleven o’clock, and three quarters of an hour later the one-minute all-clear tone.

The Hessian state capital is also taking part in the test warnings via display boards on buses and trains and via advertising boards. They are another component of the “warning mix”, as the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BKK) calls its strategy. This also includes warning apps like Nina, which now has 13 million users. In 2020, the test warning via the app arrived 35 minutes late. Disaster researcher Martin Voss assumes that things will work out much better this year.

The warning day was canceled in 2021 because the BKK did not feel sufficiently prepared. From next year onwards, warnings will be issued throughout the country on every second Thursday in September. Voss hopes that this will lead to more, and above all more transparent, discussions about the right civil protection and risk awareness. “Right now we have a culture of not even thinking about it,” he says.

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