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Sofia’s Civil Defence Warning Works – But So What?

03/04/2012

They did it again at 1pm today, a lovely, cloudless Spring day warming up nicely after the somewhat bizarre snowfall yesterday. Suddenly the calm air was rent from every direction with the monstrous metallic male voice, slowly intoning, full of dread – “Vee-nee-man-ee-yeh” – “Attention”.  And then proceeded to tell us – all the citizens of Sofia, for it’s impossible to avoid it across this sprawling city of uncountably over one million souls – that there was about to be, yet another, test of the city’s civil defence warning system. And then it comes – the awful rise and fall of a doom-laden siren, with ear-splitting bits which are actually painful if you happen to be in a certain proximity of whatever it is they beam them out of. It truly sounds to be a message from the Heavens.

Then they do the all-clear – a long, evenly-pitched wail. All up, the process takes about five minutes.

What is not offered during this six-monthly test, which by the way is duplicated in other cities around the country, is any information on why we’re likely to encounter the real thing.  It can’t be for a tsunami – Sofia is several hundred kilometres from the nearest ocean and they haven’t yet made the tsunami that can cover that sort of terrain. Could be for an earthquake, except not even Japan does meaningful earthquake alerts. And they’re not a huge thing here in Bulgaria.

One is rather left with the feeling that the only reason one is likely to hear this alert for real is that inbound ICBMs of the thermonuclear persuasion have been detected en route from, well, God knows where. In which event, one can’t help feeling that it might be rather better if one was kept in ignorance of their pending arrival until, well, their arrival, given that there’s bugger-all one can do about it.

Every time it happens, which has been every six months – April and October – over the past few years, I ask Bulgarians of my acquaintance what we are supposed to do if we should one day hear the warning without the prelude. To this point, none has admitted knowing. Whether, if we are inside, we are to go out.  Or if outside, to go in. Or whether, as the old observation has it, we are to bend over, put our heads between our legs and …

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