Israeli Military Mulling Use of Sirens to Relay Vocal Instructions

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Children in southern Israel seek shelter during a rocket alert siren. Credit: Reuters

The army is looking into the possibility of having the Home Front Command’s warning sirens broadcast instructions to residents rather than simply sound a wailing alarm.

Currently, the sirens are used to warn of both incoming rockets and earthquakes. That is problematic, because the instructions for how to behave in these two cases are diametrically opposed: For rockets, people are supposed to find a protected space deep inside a building, while for earthquakes, they are supposed to go out into the open and get as far as possible from any building.

The Home Front Command’s idea is to maintain the current rising-and-falling wail for rockets, but to replace it with verbal instructions for earthquakes.

A few months ago, the command conducted an experiment in a southern town in which the siren system transmitted verbal instructions on how to act. But the results were only partially successful, because the voices coming from different sirens interfered with each other, so the instructions weren’t heard clearly. Therefore, the command is now examining various technological ideas for fixing this problem.

If a technological fix can be found to make verbal instructions possible, the command says, it could also be used to give residents instructions in other emergencies, such as leaks of hazardous materials. In March, for instance, a railway accident near Dimona resulted in a bromine spill, and the Home Front Command wasn’t sure how to tell residents not to leave their houses.

In the end, police officers had to go around town with loudspeakers telling people to stay inside and close the windows.

After that incident, the command checked to see how many Dimona residents had downloaded its app on their cell phones, and discovered that only a minority had done so. Consequently, it has dismissed the idea of sending instructions via people’s cell phones as unfeasible.

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