Netherlands to begin sounding early warning sirens monthly
September 5, 2003
Nearly a decade after phasing out its antiquated early warning system, the Netherlands this week reverted to the former practice of sounding the disaster siren once a month.
The decision to ditch the annual sound test in favor of the Cold War-era monthly drills arose after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, officials said Thursday. However, the primary reason was that many people no longer seemed to know what to do when the sirens sounded.
“People didn’t realize what it was all about because they heard it just once a year,” said Rob Walraven, fire chief for the 254th Base Support Battalion in Schinnen, Netherlands.
Now people in the Netherlands will hear the alarms sound at noon on the first Monday of every month. The siren runs for 86 seconds.
Across the border in Germany, a review of emergency/disaster plans could lead to a similar move.
“Times have changed since 9/11,” said Jacobs Sönke, press officer of the German Fire Service Association, based in Berlin. “We are now thinking over our whole system.”
The German Interior Ministry estimates it will cost more than $100 million to adopt a warning system that would consist of 40,000 to 50,000 state-of-the-art sirens, said Wolfgang Weber, a ministry official responsible for civil protection. The sirens would be strategically situated throughout the country.
As in the Netherlands, German officials have determined the current system, which is heavily reliant on disseminating information over the airwaves, may not be enough in today’s world.
“It only makes sense if you hear the radio,” Weber said. “That’s the problem. That’s the big problem.”
In the Netherlands, upgrades to the early warning system no longer made it necessary to set off the sirens en masse, Walraven said. Tests could be done electronically, negating the need for those loud monthly reminders.
But over the past few years, when disaster alarms have sounded, such as during a chemical spill in Rotterdam, officials noticed that many people were confused about what to do. The hope is that between the sirens and public service spots, the routine — seek shelter, close doors and windows, and tune to the radio or television for instructions — will become familiar again.
Said Walraven: “We have to be prepared for everything these days.”