Together for Safety

Editorial by Josef Hess

Josef Hess
Josef Hess, Vice Director of the FOEN

Safety is a fundamental human need. Although we are all aware that there is no such thing as absolute safety, it is important that we eliminate hazards from our everyday lives to the greatest possible extent. The prosperity enjoyed by the Swiss population is also due to the significant progress achieved in providing safety against natural hazards through the joint efforts of various federal authorities, the cantons, communes and private individuals.

Floods, avalanches, rockfall and landslides will always happen in our country. What’s more, it is only a question of time until a severe earthquake happens in Switzerland again. Since the floods of 1987 at the latest, it has been clear to us that technical measures alone cannot provide sufficient protection against the damage caused by natural hazards. Therefore, the paradigm change from pure hazard prevention to integrated risk management was already introduced years ago. Organisational and planning measures for risk mitigation have gained in significance since then. For example, considerable improvements have been made in the area of natural hazard forecasting and alerting.

These efforts have already yielded benefits on a number of occasions. However, such successes present another problem: we are all too willing to believe that we are finally safe. In many cases, we realise that we have advanced too far into hazardous areas when it is already too late. Even a wealthy country like Switzerland can never fully control the forces of nature. Instead of spending more and more resources on trying to fight the hazards, we do well to simply avoid them.

The protection against natural hazards will continue to create many new challenges and consume a lot of resources in the years and decades to come. Climate change with its unpredictable consequences for natural processes is not the only factor at work here. Hazard potential is increasing rapidly with settlement development. Forward-looking spatial planning and hazard-resistant construction alone can prevent the risks from increasing at the same rapid pace and the associated damage from becoming unacceptable.

Integrated risk management is a joint task that involves the commitment of all parties – from the federal authorities, cantons and communes to the research institutes, construction sector, insurance companies and each and every individual. “Together for safety” when dealing with natural hazards; this is clearly a valid formula.

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Download this edition (PDF, 5 MB, 20.05.2015)2/2015 Living with Natural Hazards

Last modification 20.05.2015

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