Cold War warning sirens sound throughout France. That’s why

Paris (CNN) – It’s a typical Wednesday lunch break in Paris, the streets are teeming with tourists, the terraces are packed with tables as the air raid sirens fill the air.

His moan echoes through the city for nearly two minutes, reaching a crescendo over noon traffic before dying away.

This is a strange phenomenon. But what’s even stranger is that, aside from a few confused tourists, no one seems to notice.

In France, on the first Wednesday of every month, sirens originally intended to warn of Cold War bombings are turned on as a check on alarms in about 2,000 towns and villages across the country.

Today, they serve as a warning of natural or man-made disasters, but as war rages in the east of Europe, French authorities issued statements to remind the French that 1 minute 41 seconds of heart-rending screams is just a drill.

“Of course, if there was a war, we would see it on the news or something,” says Ali Karali, a tourist from London, after hearing the siren at Notre Dame in Paris this month.

“I thought it might be important, but if it was, people don’t seem to care,” he told CNN.

However, the surprise is not limited to visitors.

“It is not uncommon for the prefecture to receive calls from individuals, locals or tourists who are concerned about the siren,” said Mathieu Pianese, head of the Inter-Services for Defense and Civil Protection in Yvelines, a region west of Paris.

“Obviously our team is quick to reassure them, they have the tools they need to respond to their concerns on the first Wednesday of the month.”

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Sirens were installed throughout France after World War II to warn of Cold War bombings.

Halton Archive/Getty Images

The sirens that can be heard today date back to the Middle Ages. Since then, the administration has been required to signal any incident that could physically threaten the population.

One of the most common bells in use at the time was known as the “alarm”, which could be found in churches and was rung by priests to warn the populace of danger.

In 1914, in a number of cities, bells were rung for more than an hour to warn as many people as possible about the outbreak of the First World War.

After World War II, sirens came to warn of potential threats from the air. Their deployment accelerated during the Cold War and can now be heard throughout France.

In Maisons-Laffite, a city of about 23,000 people in the western suburbs of Paris, the main siren is located on the roof of the town hall. Only the police have access to the siren, while city hall employees take their seats in the front row to the sound of it.

“It works well, doesn’t it?” Deputy Mayor Gino Necchi says as the siren sounds.

The principle of their work is relatively simple. “Prefectural agents can activate it through the app, which is fairly easy to access,” Pianezze says. “This monthly test allows us to see which of our 47 sirens are ‘sick’ and should be taken to a doctor. We have to deliver them…


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