France tests emergency sirens and reminds residents of alert protocol

France's civil defence sirens will sound on Wednesday - and authorities have highlighted that this is a regular test. But do you know what to do in a real emergency?

France tests emergency sirens and reminds residents of alert protocol
Photo: Colin Maynard / Unsplash

The tense situation in Ukraine has prompted Pompiers de France to tweet a reminder that some 4,500 or so sirens in towns and cities across the country are tested regularly. 

The first Wednesday of the month at 12 noon is the regular time for the emergency siren tests, but the international situation has lead authorities to warn people in advance that this will happen, to avoid panic. 

You should hear the siren sound for one minute and 41 seconds. This is normal and happens 12 times a year on the first Wednesday of every month.

What to do in case of a real emergency

In case of a real emergency – such as the Lubrizol factory fire in September 2019 – the sirens will sound for much longer, in three spells of one-minute 41-seconds, broken by a five-second pause.

A 30-second siren indicates the end of any alert.

If you do hear the longer siren, indicating a genuine emergency, you are expected to be aware of likely dangers that could affect your area and take necessary precautions. 

In most cases, it means heading to a closed area – switch off any air-conditioning or other ventilation systems – and tune into France Inter and France Info or local radio stations. 


Stay in a vehicle – roads must be cleared to facilitate the action of the emergency services. A vehicle gives a false sense of security. In the event of a flood, for example, 30 cm of water is enough to carry away a car and it cannot withstand the fall of a tree.

Try to collect children from school – educational establishments will keep your children safe until the end of the emergency

Stay near windows – certain circumstances (such as explosions, high winds) can break glass and injure anyone nearby.

Open windows to find out what’s going on outside – the alert signal may be triggered due to air pollution – such as a toxic cloud – caused by an emergency incident. 

Light a naked flame – air pollution (toxic cloud, chemicals) may be flammable. Do not take the risk of triggering an explosion until the nature of the danger is fully identified.

Leave your shelter without instructions from the authorities – the purpose of the alert signal is to keep people safe. As long as the alert is not lifted (continuous siren sound for 30 seconds), leaving the shelter exposes you to danger.

Take the elevator – Weather events can lead to power cuts and elevator breakdowns. The people there would therefore risk being trapped there.

Retrace your steps – in general and especially in the event of flooding or dam failure, never go back, in case you get trapped in the middle of rising waters, for example.

Downstream from a hydraulic structure, such as a dam

A specific “fog horn” type warning signal warns the population of the rupture of the structure or of a significant release of water. It includes a cycle of a minimum duration of two minutes, composed of sound emissions of two seconds separated by an interval of three seconds.

These sirens are tested every quarter – on the first Wednesday of March, June, September and December at 12.15pm. This exercise signal has only one 12-second cycle consisting of three two-second beeps separated by a three-second interval.

If you hear this sound outside the normal tests you should:

  • Evacuate and head to higher ground listed in the plans particuliers d’intervention (PPI) of the structure. Otherwise, head to the upper floors of a high and solid building;
  • In the event of the rupture of a hydraulic structure (such as a dam), the zones located downstream are flooded in a few minutes. Evacuate if possible, or move to a high point, such as the upper floors of a high and solid building.
  • Wait for instructions from the authorities or the end of alert signal (sound continues for 30 seconds) to leave the high points. 

Member comments

  1. Bonjour, in case of an emergency described above, are there any radio – or TV stations that broadcast emergency information in other languages, e.g. English or German? Thank you.

  2. In addition to these quarterly tests many villages test their systems every Sunday (ours does) and it triggers automatically if there is a loss of power (so in incidents of high winds in particular).

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Your questions answered: Legal rights as a foreigner in France

The French Constitution offers broad legal protection to anyone in France from the right to trial to the right to legal advice, but there are some scenarios specific to foreigners in France.

Your questions answered: Legal rights as a foreigner in France

What are my rights if I am arrested or imprisoned?

If you are arrested you have the same rights as a French citizen to legal advice, phone calls, bail and a full trial – full details HERE.

There are some extra things to be aware of however;

Once arrested you have the right to an interpreter during police interviews.

You have the right to call your Embassy, although the help the Embassy can offer you is much more limited than many people think.

If you are released while awaiting a court hearing you will usually have to hand over your passport and undertake not to leave the country. If you are not a French resident, the judge can assign you a residency address in France.

If you are found guilty and imprisoned in France you maintain several rights, such as the right to vote (if you have French citizenship). France’s interior ministry has a handout detailing these rights, HERE

Can I appeal against my sentence?

Yes, you have the right to appeal a court’s decision.

Keep in mind that this can be a lengthy process with very specific deadlines – and it can go either way, so you risk a sentence being increased.

If you are acquitted in court,  French law also allows for the prosecution to appeal against your acquittal.

I am the victim of a crime, what are my rights?

In France, the role of the state and the prosecutor is to protect the peace, this means that if someone commits a crime against you, it is up to the state to decide whether to move forward with criminal proceedings.

It’s not up to the victim to decide whether or not to press charges.

Conversely, if the state chooses not to go ahead with criminal proceedings, but you (the victim) want them to press charges, you have the right to appeal against their decision to drop the case.

Can I be expelled from France for committing a crime?

Yes, although this is generally reserved for people who have committed serious crimes such as violent crime, drug-trafficking or terror offences.

If you have been jailed for a serious crime in France you can be served with an ‘interdiction du territoire français‘ – a ban from French soil – on your release. These are reserved for the most serious offences and simply being incarcerated does not necessarily lead to expulsion.

If you are a full-time resident in France but not a French citizen, then being convicted of a crime can mean that your visa or residency card will not be renewed. This is again usually reserved for people who have committed very serious crimes, but in certain circumstances residency can be withdrawn for less serious offences such as driving offences or begging. 

READ ALSO What offences can lose you the right to live in France?

If you have French citizenship it’s virtually impossible for your to be expelled from France although in some rare cases – usually connected to terrorism – citizenship of dual nationals can be revoked.

What are the rules for minors?

Minors in the French legal system have some specific rights. The EU has laid out the specific rights of minors, which apply in France as well, and apply from the time of arrest.

  • Right to be be quickly informed of legal rights, and to be assisted by your parents (or other appropriate persons)
  • Right to be assisted by a lawyer
  • No prison sentence should be imposed on a minor if they have not been assisted by a lawyer during the court hearings. All measures should be exhausted to avoid a child being imprisoned.
  • Right to be detained separately from adults if sent to prison.
  • Children should not be required “to reimburse the costs of certain procedural measures, for example, for individual assessment, medical examination, or audio-visual recording of interviews.”
  • A child’s privacy should be respected and “questioning will be audio-visually recorded or recorded in another appropriate manner.”
  • Repeatedly questioning children should be avoided.