Explained: What does a maximum ‘vigipirate’ alert level mean for France?


Vigipirate, France’s counter-terrorism alert system, has been kicked into full gear following a deadly knife attack in Arras, numerous arrests and a spate of scares across the country. Here we explain the Vigipirate system and what is means for daily life in France.  

Ever since the 13th October knife attack on a school in Arras, which left one man dead and three others injured, France has been on its highest level security =alert under the Vigipirate plan.


Vigipirate is defined by the government as the “central tool of the French counter-terrorism system…. It involves all stakeholders, the State, local authorities, public and private operators as well as citizens, in an attitude of vigilance, prevention and protection”. 

It is an acronym of “vigilance et protection des installations contre les risques d’attentats terroristes à l’explosif” or the “surveillance and protection of facilities against the risk of terrorist bombing attacks” in English.

The system has two primary objectives: the development of a culture of public vigilance where citizens are all on the lookout for conduct or behaviours that may be leading to terrorists acts; and to ensure the appropriate “protection of citizens, territory and interests” against any terrorist threat. 


In the wake of the attack on the Gambetta high school in Arras, Jean-François Ricard, France’s anti-terrorist prosecutor, revealed that his office would be investigating the suspect, a Chechnya national who has lived in France for most of his life, and 10 others on charges relating to terrorism. 

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron called the attack an example of the “barbarity of Islamist terrorism” in a speech made to the media and the country’s Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin, suggested that there was “probably a link between what’s happening in the Middle East and this incident [in Arras].” 

Tensions have been high in France in recent days, and 7,000 soldiers from the specialist Operation Sentinelle have been deployed to areas of the country deemed to be sensitive to potential terrorist attacks.  


On 18th October, seven French airports were temporarily evacuated following “threats of attacks”, including Nice Côte d’Azur Airport, that reportedly arrived via an email expressing the possibility of terrorist acts such as bombs. Nice’s airport confirmed on its social media platforms that an abandoned baggage item had been discovered and a security perimeter set up whilst it was dealt with.  

The fallout from these incidents led to a decision to close Nice’s Rugby Village for security reasons. The giant screen TV broadcasts will no longer be available, meaning that fans will need to watch the semi-final and final matches elsewhere.  

A press release from the Ville de Nice stated, “In view of the current security context, the City of Nice has decided to close the Nice Rugby Village this evening. All security forces are heavily mobilized to monitor places of worship, schools and places open to the public. Closing the Rugby Village makes it possible to redeploy the agents assigned to this site to protect citizens.” 


People are asked to call 17 or 112 if they witness a suspicious event either in person or online to help keep authorities on top of the developing situation in France.   


Read related:

Soldiers deployed and security level at max in France following murder of Arras teacher


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Photo source: Fabien Maurin, Unsplash