Only 1 in 5 knows what siren means

Siren alert tells people to take shelter - Photo: Alban Gimenez - Sécurité civile

Poll shows vast majority of people would do nothing if emergency alert sounded – instead of heading for shelter

SIRENS sound on the first Wednesday of each month across France but a new study shows only about one in five people know what they mean and what to do if there is a real alert.

Dating back to the Second World War, the 4,500 sirens of the Réseau National d’Alerte are supposed to sound a warning in the event of a major incident such as a cloud of toxic gas or nuclear accident or other imminent local catastrophe such as a dam-break.

Official advice from the Ministry of the Interior says that, on hearing the siren, people are supposed to know about likely local dangers and move to avoid being affected.

In most cases this means to head for a closed area or room without windows or air-conditioning, block up any gaps round doors and air vents and switch on the radio to hear France Inter, France Info or local stations. Downstream of a dam it could mean to head for the nearest high ground.

However, a study by Ifop showed that 78% of people would do nothing if they heard the siren.

Of the remaining 22%, one in three would lock themselves in and stay at home, one in five would seal all windows and doors, one in seven would turn on the radio to listen for information messages and one in four would set off another alarm. One in 25 would take an iodine capsule.

People are warned not to: stay inside a vehicle, go to get children from school (the school is charged with looking after its pupils), use the phone as the network should be left clear for rescue groups, remain near windows, light a flame or leave a shelter without official advice.

The alarm siren is different from the monthly reminder, which sounds for just one minute at noon on the first Wednesday of every month.

In a real alarm, it sounds for three sequences of one minute and 41 seconds in a rising and falling tone with a five second gap between each sequence. The end of the alert is a indicated by a 30-second siren sound. The government is also looking at ways of updating the system.

Sirens are already used in some communes to summon volunteer firefighters.

The Ecology Ministry ordered the study in advance of a conference on natural disasters being held this week in Bordeaux.
Photo: © Alban Gimenez - Sécurité civile

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