COVENTRY, England -- Nuclear alert sirens set off for 30 seconds by mistake prompted a flood of 'hysterical' calls to police from frightened residents of Coventry and surrounding towns, police said.
A Coventry Police inspector set off the 30-second alert Wednesday morning while showing a sergeant how the system worked.
A device to prevent the system from going off during a 'silent' demonstration apparently failed, a police spokesman said.
Coventry, a British automaking center 94 miles northwest of London, was devastated by German bombers during World War II.
The police station at Nuneaton, nine miles from Coventry, was flooded with calls after the sirens were activated.
'We had no idea what was happening. Our phones were ringing and people were hysterical asking what they should do,' said police officer Ray Berry.
Police said some 300,000 people may have heard the sirens.
Area resident Chris Perrett, 27, said he woke up to the blare of a siren and 'It put the fear of God up me. It was a wailing sound, much louder than an air-raid siren.'
Chris Youett, 32, said his first thought was to build a shelter using the doors of his home and plastic trash bags filled with sand 'but fortunately decided against it.'
A Coventry Police spokesman said the inspector would not be identified or reprimanded.
'It is not unusual to demonstrate the equipment early in the morning,' he said. 'It is tested regularly.'