A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Every first Monday of the month the Dutch seem to enjoy scaring the hell out of international students and expats. Have you ever heard the radio broadcast of Orson Welles’ ‘War of the Worlds’? Well it’s a little like that.
Let me explain; on the first Monday of the month at midday a siren sounds, which in itself is frightening enough, but the siren is unlike any I have ever heard before. It seems like the harbinger of the alien invasion a la Orson Welles, as the high pitched electronic sound rises higher and higher in pitch until, after a few minutes, it just stops. This may not sound so alarming but I have never heard an actual siren in day to day life before and I can’t pretend I wasn’t a little perturbed. My closest association with sirens were the World War Two sirens of the UK and I can’t say that’s a wonderful association to have on your first encounter.
Anyway, so there I was the first time, frantically watching out of the window, waiting for something to happen. But nothing did. My housemates didn’t even come out of their rooms. Obviously now that I’m a seasoned Leidener I don’t bat an eye at it, cool as a cucumber (except for that initial squeal every single damn time). So, the question is; what are the sirens for? I asked a few Dutch friends but no one really seemed to know. Thus, with the collaborative efforts of my friend Iris, we now have the answer.
These ‘luchtalarms’ replaced the old Cold War sirens, which were associated with nuclear attacks, war, and air raids from 1993. They now function as warnings for general danger or a disaster of some kind, and they have indeed been used before. In the 1990’s government adverts were broadcasted on TV to explain the ‘luchtalarms’ to the public and what to do if they sounded at any time other than midday on the first Monday of the month when they are tested. It translates as:
‘What to do when you hear this siren? Something is going on. There could be a threat which could lead to evacuation, or a call to stay inside and close windows and doors. A big fire – poisonous smoke – flood – dike breach – tidal wave – gas cloud – war, violence – possible nuclear disaster. Close doors and windows. Turn on radio or TV or watch your local broadcasting company. Always have a radio ready that can work on batteries in case of a power outage. Inform your neighbours if you have any information.’
So when you hear the siren, don’t panic! Alien invasion is unlikely. Unless on the off chance the aliens are coming on the first Monday of the month at midday. In that case I apologise.