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Military Not enough civilian protection personnel for emergencies

A picture of two civil protection personnel clearing rubble in Bondo.

Civil protection personnel deal with man-made or natural disaster, such as the Bondo landslide in 2017. 

(Keystone)

Swiss cantons are concerned about the declining numbers of civil protection members and have called on the federal government to address the problem. Recruitment of new members has almost halved between 2011 and 2017 in some regions.

The Swiss civilian protection service needs 6,000 new members each year to maintain its resources and its services. Last year, however, it only managed to recruit 4,800 of them, reported Swiss public radio RTS on Monday.

Men with Swiss citizenship who do not perform military or civilian service are required to undertake civilian protection activities. These include helping out in the event of disasters, offering security at major events or driving around people with disabilities.

‘Dramatic trend’

For some, this a very worrying development. “This persistent and dramatic trend threatens the very mission of civil protection,” said the secretary-general of the Inter-governmental Conference on Issues relating to Military, Civil Protection and Fire Services, Alexander Krethlow in an interview with French-speaking radio RTS. Last year, some cantons only managed to recruit half as many new members as they did in 2010, he said.

The representatives of the cantonal authorities shared their concerns with Defence Minister Guy Parmelin on Monday. They urged him to take actions to combat the problem.

+ How does military service work in Switzerland? 

Fewer declared unfit

There were two main reasons for the current shortage, according to Krethlow. The health of the population had generally improved in recent years, which means fewer men had been deemed unfit for military service, thus decreasing the civil protection’s pool of human resources.

The army has also introduced a series of “diversity of suitability” to create a more inclusive culture in the army, which means that even less men are now available for civilian protection service, Krethlow said.

Structural overhaul

A government task force was created and promises to present a report on the subject by the end of 2020, RTS reported. It will examine a variety of possible solutions which may include obliging both men and women to serve Switzerland in some form in future.

This could involve merging civilian protection with the civilian service -  which would amount to a complete overhaul of the current system. The Federal Council is opposed to this radical approach, whilst the cantonal authorities insist that reorganising the civil protection force is necessary to ensure its services can be guaranteed in times of crisis, RTS reported. 

SDA-ATS/ln

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