With an appeal to get involved, the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) got people in Germany in the mood for the nationwide warning day on December 8th. BBK President Ralph Tiesler asked all mobile phone users on Monday to carry out the updates necessary for receiving warning messages via the new cell broadcast system by Thursday. Cell phones would also need to be turned on and not in flight mode to receive alerts. Tiesler asked anyone using an older cell phone model to check the authority's website to see whether it could receive warning messages. According to him, many older cell phones cannot do this.
The test warning, which is triggered by the BBK on December 8th at 11 a.m., is intended to check how well the technical infrastructure is working. The all-clear is scheduled for 11:45 a.m.
Warnings are given on various channels. The idea behind the so-called warning mix: if the warning of a danger is sent out in different ways, the probability that it will actually reach as many people as possible increases.
The cell broadcast method is used for the first time
The warning message comes via radio and television, via warning apps such as NINA, it will be read on city information boards. In addition, sirens, loudspeaker vans, the information systems of Deutsche Bahn and, for the first time, the cell broadcast process are also used. A notification is sent to every mobile phone that has reception at this time.
How important the warning can be in an emergency was tragically shown during the heavy rain disaster in summer 2021. At that time, some people in North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate were not warned of the approaching floods in good time. Sometimes the evacuation was too late, sometimes residents refused to leave their homes because they underestimated the extent of the disaster.
The warning of local or regional dangers in peacetime is not initiated by the BBK, but on site. The Federal Office only makes its technical infrastructure available to the federal states and municipalities, which the federal government can use in the event of war - as is now the case on the warning day - to issue nationwide warnings.
What was of particular interest to experts after the end of the Cold War has increased public awareness as a result of the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. In Ukraine, for example, there is both a siren warning of airstrikes and a warning app that shows which areas are likely to be hit by a rocket.
How is the population warned:
- There aren't sirens everywhere in Germany. In many places they were dismantled after the end of the Cold War because people believed they were no longer needed. There has since been a rethink. The federal government supports the states with the installation of new sirens and the modernization of old sirens with a funding program. However, coverage is still patchy, so sirens won't be wailing everywhere on Warning Day.
- TV and radio stations should interrupt their programs to issue a warning in the event of a disaster or defense. This is also important because when citizens hear a siren alarm, they need specific information so they know how to get to safety. For example, in a situation it may be appropriate to seek shelter in the basement. In the event of a flood, however, the basement often becomes a deadly trap. Several dozen public and private broadcasters have confirmed their participation in the warning day.
- City information boards, such as those found in many places in Berlin, point out demonstrations or traffic jams in everyday life and warn people to be more considerate of cyclists. In the event of a disaster or a test alarm, a warning should be displayed on the light panels.
- Warning apps such as NINA or KATWARN enable a tailor-made warning, which also includes recommendations for action. However, this is of no use if someone does not have a smartphone to download the app. Even if the smartphone is set to silent or quiet at night, there is no guarantee that all app users will also hear the warning.
- Cell broadcast should close this gap. The procedure, which is already being used in a number of European countries, sends a warning to all mobile phone users who are in a specific radio cell. Even those who don't use a smartphone should see the message, which looks like an SMS and is announced by a shrill alarm tone. The cell phone should also vibrate and the display should flash. In Germany, this warning day is the first nationwide test for cell broadcast.
Marked first test alarm as "failed".
A lot went wrong on the first nationwide warning day on September 10, 2020. Among other things, the message from the warning apps Nina and Katwarn only arrived on the smartphones a good half hour late. If it had actually been an emergency, many citizens would not have noticed. The Federal Ministry of the Interior had therefore described the test alarm as "failed". A warning day originally planned for September 2021 had been cancelled. The reason given at the time was that the BBK was still building a "comprehensive test landscape".
"The BBK is very well prepared for this warning day," said Juliane Seifert, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, on Monday in Berlin. Tiesler asked citizens to report online to their authorities after the trial warning whether and how they received a warning. As a result, everyone can contribute to the success of the test alarm, he said.