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AUSTRIA EXPLAINED

Austria’s civil defence alarm: What you should know about the warning siren system

Austria will carry out its annual civil defence test alarm on Saturday, October 1st. Here's what you need to know about it.

Austria's civil defence alarm: What you should know about the warning siren system
Civil warning sirens. Austria has a comprehensive system that is tested frequently. (Photo by STAN HONDA / AFP)

It’s going to be loud, but don’t get scared: the alarm sirens will ring all over Austria this weekend as part of the country’s yearly alarm check when it tests the alert system.

Every year, on the first Saturday of October, thousands of sirens sound alarms all over Austria. For those who live outside of Vienna, that may not be particularly eventful, as sirens get tested more often than in the capital city.

READ ALSO: What is Austria’s official emergency-warning phone app and do I need it?

However, the annual country-wide check also means that the federal government will sound all alarms in a 45-minute event to remind the population of the signals of warning and alert.

What happens during the civil protection test alarm?

When sirens are being tested, they ring for 15 seconds only – and this doesn’t happen everywhere in Austria. However, once a year, the tests take on a larger scale.

This Saturday, October 1st, all the sirens will be tested between 12 pm and 12:45 pm. In the Austria-wide event, they will sound alarms on four occasions so people can familiarise themselves with the different signals.

READ ALSO: The smartphone apps that make living in Austria easier

At around noon, the first test will start with a 15-second alarm. Then, at 12:15 pm, the warning signal, followed by the alarm signal at 12:30 pm and the “all clear” sign at 12:45 pm.

Additionally, the governments will test their app systems, including the KAT alert and the Stadt Wien app – so you should receive test notifications if you have any of these apps.

What is the Civil Protection System?

Austria has a comprehensive warning and alarm system with over 8,000 sirens (180 of them are in Vienna) spread throughout the country. It serves to alert the population in the “event of a disaster”, according to the Ministry of the Interior.

The federal government operates the system along with provincial governments. The signals can be triggered centrally by the Federal Warning Centre in the Federal Ministry of the Interior, the Provincial Warning Centres of the Federal Provinces, or the District Warning Centres, depending on the dangerous situation.

READ ALSO: Ten essential apps to download for living in Vienna

Different types of alarms mean different things:

  • TESTING (15 seconds continuous tone): A quick continuous tone to test if sirens are working correctly.
    What to do: don’t panic; this is only a test. You can check ORF on radio, TV or online to confirm this.

  • WARNING (3 minutes continuous tone): A constant continuous tone with a length of 3 minutes means “warning”. This signal is triggered when the population is warned of approaching danger.
    What to do: Switch on radio or TV on public broadcaster ORF, or check www.orf.at and follow the rules of conduct.

  • ALARM (1 minute rising and falling wailing tone): An ascending and descending wailing tone of at least 1-minute duration means “alarm” and alerts that the danger is imminent.
    What to do: Switch on radio or TV on public broadcaster ORF, or check www.orf.at and follow the rules of conduct. Look for protective areas or rooms.

  • ALL CLEAR (1-minute continuous tone): A constant continuous tone of 1 minute (only after the alarm signal) means “all clear”, i.e. end of danger.
    What to do: Continue to pay attention to the announcements on the radio, TV or ORF online, as there may be certain temporary restrictions.

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AUSTRIA EXPLAINED

Five books to read to understand Austria

Austria is a small landlocked country of about 9 million residents, but it was once a powerful (and enormous) empire. How did that change? Here are five books that can help you understand the country as it is now.

Five books to read to understand Austria

Austrian capital Vienna was once the political centre of one of the world’s largest and most powerful empires. The dual monarchy of Austria-Hungary, led by the Habsburg family, ruled over most of central Europe and was a centre for arts and culture. 

The Alpine country, of course, is still a great producer of arts, culture and science, but from having a population of 37.5 million by 1843, Austria is now a small landlocked country of about 9 million people. 

There’s much history in between (and before) and if you want to understand Austria better, several books can help you out, according to a list published by The Economist. Here are five of the books to learn about Austria.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why is Austria so rich?

The World of Yesterday, by Stefan Zweig

Stefan Zweig was a very well-known Austrian author and journalist. He was famous for his historical studies of famous writers including Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoievsky, and Honoré de Balzac. He also wrote biographies on historical figures including Marie Antoinette. 

When the Nazi party rose to power in Germany, he emigrated and then settled in Brazil. His memoir, Die Welt von Gestern (the World of Yesterday) was published in 1942 and is a long description of life during the final years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

The Economist called it a “requiem for the liberal, cosmopolitan Vienna of the late Habsburg empire”. Many see it as the most famous book on the power family that ruled much of Europe.

READ ALSO: 8 TV shows you should watch to learn about Austrian culture

Heldenplatz, by Thomas Bernhard

Heldenplatz, which is also the name of the area in front of the Hofburg Palace, a symbol of Austrian politics (and the place where Adolf Hitler was greeted happily after the annexation of the country to Nazi Germany), is a stage drama first performed in 1988.

The play reflects on nationalism, the denial of the past and the ongoing anti-Semitism in modern Austria – it created a scandal in the country at the time. 

The Austrian playwriter, Bernhard, was vilified and died of a heart attack only a few months later.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Vienna, by Eva Menasse

“In “Vienna”, her first novel, published in 2005, Eva Menasse blends fact and fiction to tell the story of three generations of Menasses, a chaotic, voluble Viennese family with Jewish roots.”, wrote The Economist.

The book is a celebrated German-language novel and a lighter view of the decades it represents (which include the Holocaust period). It was, of course, criticised by many for “brushing over” such issues. 

It is still a delightful read according to reviewers and shows another side of Austrian history.

READ ALSO: 11 maps that help you understand Austria today

Leopoldstadt, by Tom Stoppard

A play that explores Jewish identity while recounting the tragic stories of a Viennese family that lived in the homonymous neighbourhood – which once had a thriving Jewish community. 

Unlike Vienna, this play brushes over none of the tragedy, crimes and horrors of the Holocaust period. However, it starts even earlier as the multigenerational story begins on Christmas Day 1899, following family members until 1955.

It’s a short but beautiful read.

READ ALSO: How Austria’s newest citizens reclaimed a birthright stolen by the Nazis

Vielgeprüftes Ӧsterreich, by Paul Lendvai

Author Paul Lendvai had already published “Inside Austria” a personal account of 50 years of the country’s history – but now, Vielgeprüftes Österreich (something like “much-tested” or “long-suffering” Austria) acts as a sequel of sorts, according to The Economist.

The book hasn’t been translated into English yet, but the writer looks into Austria’s political history from the Habsburgs to the Ukrainian war, touching on subjects such as why anti-Semitism and xenophobia continue to grow in Austria and why Austrians still fall for demagogues.

READ ALSO: Why is support for Austria’s far-right FPÖ rising?

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