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Swissair, federal railways launch disaster relief group

The idea behind CareLink arose following the crash of Swissair flight 111 in 1998

(swissinfo.ch)

Swissair and the Swiss Federal Railways have launched a non-profit organisation, CareLink, to help disaster victims and their families, and train other agencies in crisis management. Spokesmen said it is Switzerland's first independent disaster relief service.

The director of CareLink, Franz Bucher, says current "care teams" of Swissair and the railways will form the two pillars of the new organisation.

CareLink's role will include establishing contact with disaster victims, organising transportation, food and shelter, and providing other practical and emotional support.

The first point of contact between Care Link and those touched by catastrophe will be the local Call Centre.

CareLink is expected to fill a gap in Switzerland's crisis management network. Organisers say it will work with local emergency services, relief organisations and the cantonal police, and integrate with the current disaster relief network.

Cantonal police role

Bucher says cantonal police will play a key role in deploying the services of CareLink. "They are actually leading the crisis management in the cantons and it is essential that we get their advice in preparing our own organisation."

The new service will offer many "modules" of potential response that can be used in the event of a large-scale emergency.

The idea behind the network arose in the wake of the crash of Swissair flight 111 near Halifax, Canada, which killed 229 people.

Bucher says that after the accident, there were a number of requests in Switzerland and elsewhere, for an independent unit to deal with the aftermath of disasters.

The former head of Swissair operations, Beat Schär, who was in charge of the airlines' emergency committee after the Halifax crash, said CareLink's work would mirror the 'three Cs of crisis management.

"The first C is for command, or handling staff, decision-making and implementation. Communication, the second aspect of crisis management, requires open communication via the media, and with families or surviving disaster victims. The third "C", is for care - of people involved.

Annual membership fees

CareLink will be funded by annual membership fees paid by Swiss companies and governmental institutions invited to join the network. Currently, the fee ranges from SFr7,000 ($4,167)to SFr77,000 ($45,833), depending on the level of risk involved, but costs could drop with increased numbers of members.

While the number of core members is expected to be limited to about seven companies, there is no limit to the number of affiliations available with Swiss enterprises, and at least 200 firms are expected to join CareLink.

The two principal members, Swissair and the Federal Railways, have contributed staff and infrastructure worth around SFr600,000 ($357,143).

CareLink spokesmen said they hope the Migros group will join the core members later this year.

CareLink has set a target of recruiting at least 400 volunteers who will be grouped into teams overseeing the needs of disaster victims. Psychological experts will back up the teams.

A group of logistics and technical experts will oversee the transportation and relief aspects of coping with disasters.

By MaryAnn Mathew


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