What concerns everyone can only be resolved by everyone

Editorial by Paul Steffen, Vice Director FOEN

Paul Steffen, Vizedirektor BAFU

Full protection against natural hazards is not possible. However, Switzerland has learned from the natural disasters of the past and has developed an integrated risk management approach that reduces the risks to an acceptable level. Our response to natural hazards is of a high standard and is recognised internationally. Now, however, we are facing new challenges. Climate change is exacerbating natural hazards: rising temperatures and changes to precipitation patterns are expected to lead to significantly more debris flows, landslides, rockfall processes and floods. It is not just in mountainous areas that the hazards are increasing – Switzerland as a whole needs to adapt to the new scenarios, including more frequent, more intense rainfall, which might also lead to flooding in your basement.

Parliament intends to improve protection for the population, and in 2019 it tasked the Federal Council with providing the necessary resources to maintain and improve alert and warning systems. The aim is to develop new generations of storm warnings for today’s mobile and digital society, and for people to be able to access, on their mobile device, continually updated, detailed, localised information about selected locations. In addition, there are plans to develop a warning system for mass movement hazards. The FOEN is currently building a warning system for landslides and mud flows that works in a similar way to the avalanche warning system. Using a number of warning levels, it tells people in which areas and with what probability slopes could become unstable because of current saturation levels. Monitoring of landslide areas is also being ramped up. Thanks to satellite radar interferometry (InSAR), it is now possible to monitor a large number of slope movements and to identify new ones. Regular analysis of InSAR data makes it possible to predict landslides in certain cases.

Monitoring, warning systems and protective structures alone are not enough to prevent damage completely. There is also a need for land-use planning measures and personal responsibility, for instance investments in property protection or adapting a building’s use to the hazard in question. Everyone – from house owners to tenants, the national railway to power stations, hoteliers to garage owners – can be affected by natural hazards, anywhere in the country. As Friedrich Dürrenmatt once wrote, “What concerns everyone can only be resolved by everyone.” Only if all players take on their responsibility can we avoid new risks and create comparable levels of safety for people, property and vital natural resources throughout Switzerland.

Last modification 03.06.2020

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