Empty streets and air raid sirens

Take cover for Taiwan’s nationwide annual air defense drill…

A police officer stands in the middle of an otherwise-empty intersection of two 6-lane roads.
Wan’an 2023. Photo: Zhen-Kang.

Since 1978, Taiwan has held annual air defense drills called Wan’an (literally “mega peace exercise”; 萬安演習). During the drills, civilians must take cover for 30 minutes in their home, an air raid shelter, or other suitable place.

This Focus Taiwan story includes a great photo from my city last year: an empty six-lane road leading to Kaohsiung Main Station (under construction in the foreground). Ordinarily, one of the busier parts of the city.

It was from news articles that I first learned about Wan’an 2023. I noted it in my calendar, determined to avoid a NT$150,000 (NZ$7,500!) fine for non-compliance.

I was also kindly reminded by friends, my language school, and my building’s internal comms app:

Two screenshots from an apartment building communication app. The left screenshot shows an enlargement of a Chinese-language poster about the air raid exercise, and the right screenshot shows a smaller version of that poster along with other functions in the app menu bar.
My building’s internal comms app sends me notifications about packages at reception, building maintenance, and air raids.

This year, Wan’an is being staged over four days. It began two days ago in northern Taiwan, which includes Taipei.

Southern Taiwan, which includes Tainan and Kaohsiung, had the exercise yesterday at 1:30pm.

I set my old phone to remotely record the drill.

Then I locked myself in my apartment to avoid being ushered into an air raid shelter—where people had to cower on the floor, covering their heads, for the full 30 minutes.

Not wanting to make light of the exercise—but also wanting to be comfortable—I closed my windows, turned up the AC, and sat back with an iced tea.

Here’s how things played out…


Ten minutes before Wan’an, normal afternoon traffic flows through the intersection:



An air raid siren marks the start of Wan’an at precisely 1:30pm. Most vehicles have already stopped by now. A police officer directs remaining cars off the road:


I receive a Presidential Alert on my phone:


The air raid siren stops after two minutes. Now the only sounds are birds and air conditioning units. I knew the city would be quiet, but I was surprised it was this quiet:



Another siren marks the end of Wan’an. Three police officers direct traffic to start moving again:


I open my windows and hear the city roar back to life.

The concluding siren rang for two minutes. By the time it stopped, it was like nothing ever happened.

I hope it never does.