Safety boards slam “irresponsible” decision to ditch sirens

The sirens are tested every month. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The decision by caretaker justice minister Dilan Yesilgöz to abandon the use of sirens in emergencies from 2026 has come under fire from several regional safety boards.

Yesilgöz said the siren reaches fewer people than the NL-Alert message to people’s phones, which will replace it from then. The decision will also mean an end to the tests carried out on the first Monday of every month.

But some of the 25 safety boards, which are responsible for emergency services responses in case of emergencies, said to ditch the siren would be “irresponsible”, particularly those whose remit includes ports or heavy industry.

“If there is a crisis you must be able to inform all citizens,” director of the Rotterdam-Rijnmond safety region Arjen Littooij told broadcaster NOS. “That can be done both via an NL-Alert and a siren. We need both.”

Littooij pointed out that the minister’s research shows that 92% of the population would be able to receive an NL-Alert. “That means 8% don’t and in my region that means 100,000 people would not be alerted to an emergency,” he said.

He also pointed out that the siren is less vulnerable to failures because it has a battery backup system in case of a power cut. Others have also pointed out the mobile phone system is at risk of hacking.

Zuid-Holland and Groningen safety boards, whose ports also handle high-risk hazardous substances, also object to the change.

The minister said she takes the objections seriously and will “take local circumstances into account” by allowing for an extra alarm system, but it is not clear if that means the siren stays.

But according to Linnooij that is not enough. “Disasters don’t respect regional borders and so I think the alert should stay for the whole country, in addition to the phone alert,” he told the broadcaster.

The air-raid siren sounded just twice in the last five years, both times in Limburg, once to alert people to flooding in 2021 and once when toxic waste was released on the Chemelot premises in 2019.

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