Emergency Alert: The Return of the Sirens

by time news

Ka connection under this number: early in the morning on November 11, 2021, numerous control centers for the police (110), fire brigade and rescue service (112) could no longer be reached due to failures of the telephone emergency call. The disruption affected regions across Germany, and it took more than an hour for the problem, which was apparently caused by new software, to be resolved. It was the second major disruption to the emergency call infrastructure within a few weeks. Most recently, there were significant problems on September 29, 2021.

Such situations highlight the importance of emergency communication channels. After all, the intuitive and quick accessibility of control centers via easy-to-remember abbreviated dialing is a prerequisite for short assistance periods and thus the efficiency of operations. In the Federal Republic of Germany, the emergency numbers that are common today have been established for large cities since the late 1940s. On September 20, 1973, the Prime Minister and the Federal Chancellor decided to introduce it across the board. This was made possible by the committed lobbying work of the Björn Steiger Foundation. Today, 112 is valid in more than 30 countries, including all countries of the European Union since 1991.

However, communication usually runs in at least two directions, and this also applies to emergencies: In addition to the possibility of making emergency calls, reliable information technology is required for contact between the helpers (alarm and communication during the operation via radio networks for authorities and organizations with security tasks – BOS radio) as well as for the information of the population by the public authorities. The nationwide warning day on September 10, 2020, which was characterized by technical breakdowns, made it clear that there is an urgent need to catch up in Germany, especially with regard to the last point. The next warning day is to take place in 2022. Then we will see what we learned from the error analysis two years ago.

A banal and critical finding in 2020 was that there are too few sirens in Germany for a reliable, nationwide warning. The network is currently being expanded again, with start-up financing from the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) amounting to around 90 million euros. In Bavaria, where the intention is to almost double the existing network of warning systems, the first new sirens from the program are to be put into service this year.


Electronic: The alarm also works in the event of a power failure thanks to backup batteries.
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Image: Peter Thomas

The topic of siren warnings became even more explosive when the citizens affected were informed too late about the risk during the floods caused by heavy rain in summer 2021 – with particularly serious consequences in the Ahr Valley. Perhaps early siren alarms could have avoided fatalities here. The events are currently being processed by an investigative committee of the Rhineland-Palatinate state parliament.

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