Smoke alarms could be disaster warning system

The German government is mulling ways to set up a national central disaster warning system, to replace the Cold War era siren network which is no longer functional. One idea is to turn domestic smoke alarms into a national system.

Smoke alarms could be disaster warning system
Photo: DPA

The post-war system of 70,000 sirens across the country has been largely closed down, and responsibility for warning systems passed from the federal government to the 16 states.

The Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BKK) has a satellite warning system in place. It is geared up to send a message to radio and television stations in the event of a disaster and around 160 broadcasters are signed up so far.

But this system, known as the SatWaS, could soon be expanded, the BKK said on Wednesday. This could incorporate parts of the old siren system with text messaging services and even domestic smoke alarms – spruced up with radio receivers and loud speakers.

Currently the state governments decide whether to get involved in the system and decide how to warn people of an impending disaster.

In some states there is a text messaging system in place which automatically sends an SMS to registered phones. Communications experts at the Fraunhofer Institute in Berlin are working on a network that would not require people to sign up.

Rhineland Palatinate’s State Secretary for Internal Affairs Heike Raab also thinks that Germany needs more. “We need a single system running through the whole of the country because there are barely any sirens left,” he said.

While the radio and television warning system has benefits, she suggested that this would be slowed down should a disaster happen at night.

The BKK has also been developing a domestic smoke alarm kitted out with a siren, speaker and radio receivers – an idea that the German fire fighter association said would be the most effective way of alerting the country.

“Technically it would not be difficult to have a voice coming through the smoke alarm instructing people what to do, should an emergency happen,” said Rudolf Römer, member of the voluntary fire service in Rhineland-Palatinate.

It could even be more effective than traditional sirens which can be muffled by well-insulated walls and closed windows, he added.

The BKK are less convinced about relying on a smoke alarm-loud speaker hybrid though, and said should these be developed they would act as an additional, not primary, warning system.

DPA/The Local/jcw

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