14 September 2023

Germany retests emergency warning system but Berlin’s sirens fail to sound

14 September 2023

Warning messages sounded on mobile phones and alarms blared across Germany as part of a nationwide test of the emergency alert system on Thursday, but in Berlin the sirens stayed quiet.

The latest “warning day” was conducted after an embarrassing flop in 2020, when the country held its first such test in 30 years and many civil defence sirens around Germany did not go off.

It turned out that many sirens were removed after the end of the Cold War. In other places, the system just did not work.

The head of Germany’s Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance, which was in charge of organising the test alerts, was fired.

Initial reports seemed to indicate that many more sirens went off on Thursday than in 2020. In the German capital, however, the phone alerts went through but the public alarms again failed to wail.

Even though the sirens did not echo in Berlin, German interior minister Nancy Faeser said the first evaluations showed the 11am test was “a complete success”.

“Our warning systems passed the major stress test,” the minister said in a statement, adding that “our mix of warning systems reaches almost everyone in Germany”.

The failed test in 2020 was considered a national embarrassment in a country that used to be known for its efficiency. In the last three years, most warning systems were repaired or modernised.

As the sirens echoed in many places, mobile phones shrieked and lit up with push alerts saying “nationwide alert day for Germany” but stressing there is no danger.

Radio programmes, TV shows and websites carried information about the test, which was intended to prepare people so they would know what to do in case of actual emergencies such as severe flooding, fires or war.

Berlin authorities removed all of the city’s air raid sirens in the 1990s. After the 2020 “warning day”, the city was supposed to install 400 new sirens.

Only around 100 sirens have been put up so far, and even those could not sound the alarm on Thursday because they were not ready to be switched on, German public broadcaster RBB and others media outlets said.

Currently, there are about 38,000 sirens in the country, German news agency dpa reported, but there are plans to increase the number.

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