As of today, Swiss residents can opt to receive notifications on their smartphones in case of an emergency like a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
On Thursday, the government announced that its planned measures to modernise the alarm system –beyond sirens and the radio – are now effective. Residents can download the Alertswiss application to their phones and receive alerts in case of incidents like natural disasters, chemical plant fires, serious rail accidents or a terrorist attack with a "dirty bomb".
The Alertswiss app is available free of charge for both Android and iOS operating systems. It can be downloaded from Google Play and the Apple store. Information on incidents will also be updated on the Alertswissexternal link website.
Until now, sirens and radio broadcasts were the main means of communicating emergencies to the population. The push notification will be broadcast simultaneously with the activation of sirens. However, it is also possible to broadcast alerts and information without triggering the sirens.
“Some people no longer know what to do when the sirens sound. In addition, the hearing impaired are excluded from the current system and need an appropriate alarm and information system,” said a statement from the Federal Office of Civil Protection.
The sound of sirens
Every year on the first Wednesday in February, authorities test 7,800 sirens across Switzerland. Some 5,000 are mounted on rooftops or poles; the other 2,800 are portable and spread around the country to reach remote areas. Most of the sirens are general alarms, which go up and down in tone. The other type is a water alarm, which has a low tone. These are for people living below dams. The two systems are tested for up to an hour and a half.
When the real thing happens – in Bern, for example, the general alarm went off in 2007 when the Aare River threatened to overflow its banks – people are advised to switch on a radio for instructions. But with water alarms, those living below dams are urged not to wait but to leave immediately.