If you live in France, you will have heard -- and no doubt have been startled by -- the sound of sirens going off at midday on the dot on every first Wednesday of the month.
For those who have just moved to France the sound of blaring sirens can be quite a shock and will have had you thinking that an air raid is approaching.
And while you might be used to these siren tests if you've lived here for some time, from Wednesday November 7th depending on where you live in France you could well be hearing them at a different time.
For example, from now on if you live in northern France, you will hear them at 11.45 am and if you live in the south, you'd better prepare your nerves for the new test time of 12.15 pm, with these changes set to remain in place indefinitely.
However if you live in central France you will continue to hear the sirens go off at noon.
So, what are these siren tests all about?
The alert system which is tested every month is part of the SAIP (Système d’Alerte et d’Information des Populations), a national warning system designed to alert the public if it is in danger.
The siren "can warn the population in a given area of imminent danger," says the website of the interior ministry, adding that "this network, inherited from the WWII was initially designed to alert people of an air threat (conventional bombing or nuclear) and can also be used to cope with the rise of technological or natural risks".
While it can come as quite a shock if you're not used to them, the monthly test ensures the system is still working and you'll see them dotted around, particularly on the roofs of municipal buildings.
In fact, some of the oldest are located on the roofs of churches and aren't automatic which means that on the first Wednesday of the month you could spot a municipal employee scrambling up to push the test button manually.
Why is the test time being changed?
The idea behind the change is to prevent the new computer program running the tests from being overwhelmed by setting off France's 2,000 sirens all at once.
To prevent too much surprise and worry among the population, some local authorities have already informed their residents.
How would it sound if the real siren went off?
While the monthly test alarm lasts just one minute 41 seconds with punctuated silences, in the event of a real alert the signal is "a modulated sound, rising and falling with three sequences of one minute and 41 seconds separated by an interval of five seconds" says the interior ministry.
This end of the alert is then announced by a continuous signal of 30 seconds.
If you should ever hear the real alert people are advised to stay as safe as possible preferably in a room without windows, turn on the radio and wait for the instructions of the authorities.
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