Teams of search-and-rescue specialists from Germany, France and Britain have been taking part in an earthquake simulation exercise in Geneva alongside members of the Swiss army.
The international teams are currently fine-tuning their emergency response techniques in the ruins of the Swiss army training village at Epeisses, canton Geneva, as part of the Achilles exercise from May 8-10.
In the exercise scenario, a 7.5-Richter earthquake has hit the Geneva area. On May 8, rescue teams from Switzerland, Germany and France arrived at Payerne Airport in neighbouring canton Vaud and then drove to Epeisses.
The three-day exercise enables participants to practise deployment procedures, rescue trapped victims and provide emergency medical assistance. Operational bases and tents have been set up near the training village.
Around 100 officials and experts from Switzerland and other countries attended on Tuesday, including politicians, representatives of the Swiss army and the Swiss Humanitarian Aid service and foreign defence officials stationed in Switzerland.
Twenty search and rescue specialists from ten other countries helped supervise and assess the teams taking part in the exercise. Another 19 experts from China, Japan, Taiwan, Mongolia, Chile and Luxembourg and from the United Nations acted as official observers.
In Switzerland, initial response to a disaster is handled by local and cantonal authorities, which are overseen by the Federal Office for Civil Protection.
In 2004, the federal government created a special Rapid Response Army task force, which can respond to catastrophes within hours. In addition, each year, out of some 20,000 new army recruits, around 1,200 are chosen to do their military service in the companies devoted to disaster response.
Rescue and engineering troops operate primarily within Swiss borders. They are called into service only after local and cantonal civil organisations (police, fire, ambulance) are overwhelmed and officially request help from the defence and civil protection ministry.