The siren system is tested in populated areas all over Sweden, on the first Monday of March, June, September and December at three o’clock on the dot.
On all other occasions, its purpose is to inform the public of danger such as a big fire, explosion or war. It was first created in 1931 and has more or less stuck around in various shapes and forms since then, celebrating its 90th birthday this year.
The integrated warning system consists of the outdoor siren backed up by messages sent by radio and television stations across Sweden. The alert is made up of seven-second blasts interspersed with 14-second silence, followed by a longer signal which indicates ‘hazard over’.
It sounds rather like the horn of a ship as it leaves port, which makes for a rather curious aural experience hundreds of miles inland. It was nicknamed Hoarse Fredrik (Hesa Fredrik) after a Swedish columnist at Dagens Nyheter in the 1930s, Oscar Fredrik Rydqvist, noted that it sounded like himself when he had a cold.
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A range of different warning system have been tested in Sweden since the war. Until 1961, air-raid sirens were tested to warn the public about potential air invasion. In 1968, the Civil Defence Committee decided that an alarm system would be tested four times a year and in 1984, the warning system was modified to what it is today.
There are about 4,500 signal horns all over Sweden. They are owned by the state but maintained by local authorities. The Civil Contingencies Agency estimates that around 50 percent of all Swedes live within earshot of the horns.
So if it is not Monday and you hear a sound like an ocean liner docking in the street outside – be alarmed. And if a foreign army decides to invade on the first Monday of March, June, September or December, they may find Swedes curiously unresponsive.