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Warntag: What you need to know about Germany's 'Warning Day' on Thursday

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Warntag: What you need to know about Germany's 'Warning Day' on Thursday
A siren on top of a Berlin school. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Fabian Sommer

On Warntag (Warning Day) this Thursday at 11 am, people will be shown how they can be alerted in the event of disasters or warfare. How successful is the day likely to be, and why is it needed in the first place?


During the nationwide Warntag (warning day) this Thursday, about 38,000 sirens will be available for the test alarm, in addition to other methods of alerting people in Germany in the event of a possible disaster.

At around 11 am, the Federal Office of Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) will sound a test alarm. The piercing ring will then be broadcast via warning apps, radio and television stations, as well as via nearly 6,600 digital display boards directly controlled by the BBK.

However, it will be at least a few more months before at least some of the sirens can be centrally controlled as well, said BKK president Ralph Tiesler in an interview with the German Press Agency (DPA).

"The sirens have to be triggered by the control centres of the municipalities; so someone in the control centre still has to press a button," said Tiesler

That is also the reason why the siren alarm does not come at the same moment as, for example, the warning via app or cell broadcast in which all mobile phones receive a loud ringing alert, whether they are registered for it or not. 

READ ALSO: All cell phone users in Germany to be part of disaster 'warning day'

"Our goal is to create the possibility that in the future all sirens that are technically feasible can also be controlled directly by the federal government," Tiesler said

Whether this will  be the case in time for the next warning day in September 2024, however, is not yet certain.

How common are nationwide warnings in Germany?

In practice, nationwide warnings - apart from trial alerts - are an exception. Mostly, warnings in Germany are issued locally or regionally, for example for floods or forest fires.

The number of trial alerts in Germany also pales in comparison to many other countries. The Netherlands, for example, has a similar density of sirens in relation to the size of its national territory, where a test alarm is sounded on the first Monday of every month.

An alarm on top of a multifamily home in Teltow, Brandenburg. picture alliance/dpa | Soeren Stache

A complete and up-to-date picture of the functioning sirens set up in Germany will be available in 2024, Tiesler added: "The nationwide siren register should be available as a platform with daily updated data in the course of the coming year."

The number of sirens is higher today than it was a few years ago, even though there are still no sirens at all in some parts of Germany.

After the end of the Cold War, the devices were considered superfluous in many places and were no longer repaired - or completely dismantled.

In the meantime, however, efforts are being made to change this, with corresponding funding programmes devoted to building or repairing sirens.


How successful have previous warning days been?

During the first nationwide Warntag in 2020, a lot of things went wrong, which is why the BBK chief at the time, Christoph Unger, had to step down from his post. The second Warntag on December 8th, 2022 was a much greater success. 

READ ALSO: How successful was Germany's latest 'Warning Day'?

"All in all, we can be quite satisfied with a rate of around 90 percent across all warning channels together," Tiesler said

In the past, BKK often faced the accusation that it was stirring up panic with its calls for self-protection. But Tiesler has seen that mindset steadily changing. 

"Our campaigns and events such as the Covid-19 pandemic, the flood disaster in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate, but also the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine have ensured that people are more concerned with personal precautions for crisis and disaster scenarios."

Warnings are also to be issued again via cell broadcast. That means that all mobile phone users who are in a certain area with a switched-on mobile phone receives a text message accompanied by a shrill noise - provided the device is not too old and the necessary updates have been made. 


At last year's Warntag, the coverage rate of cell broadcast was around 53 percent, according to a BKK survey.

The BKK is also dealing with a pressing emergency question which only came up in the past couple of years: how to deal with bunkers or other shelters in case of a military attack. 

"We are currently dealing with the question of how to deal with the remaining 579 shelters," says Tiesler. He adds: "It's a complex issue, because since it was decided in 2007 not to operate any more public bunkers."

READ ALSO: How prepared is Germany in the event of a military attack?


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