Does the UK have air raid sirens? What would happen in the event of a nuclear attack - and how would we know?

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There has never been a nuclear attack on the UK but plans are in place if it was to take place

Calls from military top bosses to reintroduce conscription to boost British forces have sparked fears of conflict in the future.

It's an extremely volatile time in world politics, with war raging in Ukraine and the middle east. Many countries in the 2024 hold nuclear weapons ready to use if they choose, but what would be the plan if the warheads were pointed at the UK?

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There has never been a nuclear attack on the UK but there are plans in place if one was to be launched against the British Isles. It is believed that if a nuclear weapon was launched at London from Moscow or central Asia, it would take around 20 minutes to arrive.

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Does Britain have air raid sirens?

Air raid sirens will be known to most in the UK as a staple during World War Two. Images of civilian attacks such as the Blitz will stick in people’s minds, alongside the unmistakable high-pitched rising and falling of the siren.

A single note rang out to indicate that the threat was over. Air raid sirens were used to warn those in the cities of an impending German air attack and allow them to either move to shelter or prepare their home.

While they were still commonplace in the UK during the Cold War, many have now disappeared from the streets. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former British Army chemical and nuclear weapons expert, told The Telegraph: “In the depths of the Cold War, we were very prepared and there was a realisation an attack was a reality.”

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He added that there were “hundreds of bunkers around the country” but that much of this nuclear attack infrastructure “has gone into abeyance and crumbled”. But fear not, as there is a plan in place from 2022.

Air raid sirens were on UK streets until the end of the Cold War. (Credit: Adobe)Air raid sirens were on UK streets until the end of the Cold War. (Credit: Adobe)
Air raid sirens were on UK streets until the end of the Cold War. (Credit: Adobe) | eqroy -

How will UK citizens be alerted to a nuclear attack?

While the traditional air raid sirens may not be on our streets any more, a much more modern alert has been created by the government. From early 2022, the UK Government is set to launch a new ‘Emergency Alerts’ system which will be used for a range of events.

This includes severe weather such as severe flooding and fires, and is likely to include large scale attacks such as a nuclear attack. The plans are for a notification to be sent to every phone or tablet to those in the affected area with a warning and advice on how to stay safe. Your phone or tablet may make a loud air raid-siren like noise, read the alert out and vibrate, even if the volume is turned or the device is on silent.

Will there be an emergency broadcast in the event of a nuclear attack?

In an event of an attack on the UK, TV stations are likely to play an air raid-style siren instead of usual programming to alert citizens to an imminent attack. This would also likely be broadcast over radio too.

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This would be similar to the ‘four-minute warning’ system, which was created during the Cold War. Essentially this gave citizens a short term warning to seek shelter as an attack is imminent.

It also included a recording by Peter Donaldson of BBC Radio 4 which would have played in the immediate aftermath of the attack. This message gave advice to those who had found shelter - including telling them not to leave, to ration food and water and providing a warning about radioactive fallout.

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