Swiss test emergency nuclear response

The Artus 5 exercise in progress at the National Emergency Operations Centre in Zurich Keystone

The Swiss government has finished a test of the emergency information network which would be used in the event of a nuclear catastrophe.

This content was published on November 13, 2001

The two-day test, conducted by the National Emergency Operations Centre in Zurich, gauged the response to a fictitious scenario: an atomic bomb blast in Grenoble, France, and the ensuing movement of radioactive clouds toward Switzerland.

The test checked the speed and efficiency with which information was relayed among government and emergency services, using Internet technology, following the simulated attack.

Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid, Federal Chancellor Annemarie Huber-Hotz, and army officials were among those attending the drill, code-named ARTUS 5, which involved dozens of information technology specialists.

Felix Blumer, spokesman for the centre, said the main purpose of the exercise was to simulate a response to a nuclear attack, and train defence personnel to respond to the emergency rapidly, using electronic communication.

"You can generate the maps and so they have to react, and they have to give the political information to the government," Blumer explained.

Although the exercise was held just two months after the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United State, Blumer said it had been planned since last year.

Sense of security

Dieter Frei, the deputy head of the emergency centre, added that the exercise could reinforce the Swiss sense of security at a time when the terrorist attacks have diminished confidence in the defence capabilities of many Western nations.

"I think the present situation with the terrorism attacks makes people more interested in the ways they could protect themselves and I think that this exercise can be a contribution to the confidence of the people in the crisis management done by the federal government," Frei said.

Achille Casanova, federal vice-chancellor, said he was reassured following the exercise.

Switzerland's neutrality has protected it against the ravages of two world wars, and it has been mandatory since the 1960s for most buildings in the country to be equipped with underground shelters.

The country's civil defence policies nevertheless continue to be upgraded and are among the strictest in the Western world.

By MaryAnn Mathew

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