Stay risk informed. Be prepared.Switzerland’s multi-hazard early warning system
The success of Switzerland's early warning system is based on three key factors: collaboration and data sharing, technological and
organisational innovation, and service-oriented channels and communication.
Gathering accurate and reliable data for weather forecasts is the first link in the chain. But reliable data is only truly effective if it is shared. Switzerland's early warning system is effective because all parties – from the local to the institutional, from the municipal to the federal level – share the data they collect within the early warning network.
They also share a common understanding: working together to protect the public.
Important, often life-saving, decisions are taken based on the data.
An efficient warning system can significantly reduce the extent of damage caused by natural hazards. After the "flood of the century" in 2005, Switzerland recognised that the population must be alerted better and more quickly. Switzerland took steps to improve the overall effectiveness and efficiency of its warning and intervention process.
Warnings at federal level
Today, the responsible federal agencies issue warnings for different types of natural hazards. These agencies are members of the Steering Committee Intervention in Natural Hazards, known by its German acronym LAINAT. The National Emergency Operations Centre within the Federal Office for Civil Protection disseminates warnings and forecasts from the various agencies to the affected cantons and other partners in the situation network.
Alarms at local level
Municipalities advise the population on what to do – or not to do – in case of a natural hazard. For example, vacating areas threatened by floods or abstaining from lighting fires outdoors during extreme dryness. Individuals also take important decisions to prevent loss of life and damage to property: from shutting down a mountain railway to taking a school class to a museum instead of on a hike.
Accurate and accessible information on natural phenomena leading to hazards is essential. Equally important is tailoring the information channels to the needs of the people who use them: the experts, citizens, private and public sector organisations who base important, often life-saving decisions on the information.
A strong partnership forges the early warning chain
It became known as the "flood of the century". In August 2005, torrential rains caused massive flooding in
several parts of Switzerland. Six people lost their lives. Lakes rose, rivers turned into raging torrents and
landslides damaged roads, fields and property. The material damages amounted to 3 billion Swiss Francs.
Steps needed to be taken to prevent losses in future natural disasters.
The Swiss government learned an important lesson: a successful early warning system depends on all actors working together and sharing information.
After the 2005 floods, forecasting and communication were improved, cooperation among federal offices
was standardised, and the Steering Committee Intervention in Natural Hazards was created.
LAINAT promotes preparation for extraordinary natural events, coordinates the different mandates of the offices involved and manages projects on hazard preparation, warning and alerting. Through the close collaboration of six federal offices and institutes, LAINAT ensures that all actors involved in data collection, forecasting and early warning measures speak as one voice. To this purpose they also agreed on a common warning system with unified warning areas and warning levels. In case of a major event leading to natural hazards, they publish one bulletin and gather the relevant information on common platforms.
Switzerland is also active in supporting partner countries abroad in strengthening early warning
systems in collaboration with institutions from LAINAT, Swiss NGOs and others. Projects
abroad support capacity building of local institutions, community mobilisation and awareness
raising. Switzerland is also a partner of multilateral trust funds such as the Climate Risk Early
Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative that strengthens early warning systems worldwide.
You manage a nursing home. Temperatures have been
rising for days. You need to find out if the heat wave will continue so you can
take the necessary precautions, such as buying ventilators and stocking more
drinking water, to ensure the safety of the residents.
As a farmer you want to protect your crops from frost. Where do
you get the information you need to decide whether frost-protection
measures will be required this week?
Bildmaterial: wahrscheinlich Archiv oder Spantandreh bei Frostprognosen
You are the manager of a construction site. You are
concerned that forecast winds
will pose a threat to the site. Where can you find out how strong the winds
will be in order to decide
if precautions such as securing
cranes and objects
will be necessary?
An earthquake has struck. As head of the local municipality you
must find out quickly where the epicentre is located and whether
aftershocks are likely.
system encompasses five radar stations
which cover the entire country, including the
alpine region. Two stations are
located in the midlands north of the Alps, one south of the Alps and the two
newest ones are placed at an elevation of almost 3,000
metres above sea level in
the middle of the Alps. The
harsh weather conditions make operating a
radar station at that elevation a challenge.
All the radar devices are equipped with the latest technology, which allows even more detailed measurements to be taken, and increase the precision of precipitation and thunderstorm warnings. The fully automated radar network records precipitation and thunderstorms in real time. The measurements are acquired, processed and reach users within a few minutes.
Five radar stations
The Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN)
operates and coordinates several monitoring
networks on the topic of water. Long-term
measurements at permanent gauging stations and
individual readings at temporary sites enable the
FOEN to keep track of water flow and quality in
Switzerland’s rivers and groundwater, as well as the
water level in its lakes.
The FOEN Hydrology Division’s basic monitoring network now comprises some 260 gauging stations on surface waters. In addition to lake water levels, river discharge is measured at 200 sites. In addition, FOEN operates a temperature monitoring network, the National Groundwater Monitoring as well as the National Surface Water Quality Monitoring Network. Thanks to the latter, the FOEN, in collaboration with other federal institutions and cantons, can document and evaluate the state of and changes in Swiss bodies of water on a national level.
260 gauging stations on surface waters
Head of local fire brigade
You are in charge of the local fire brigade. Heavy rains have made rivers and streams rise. You need accurate information in order to assess the risk of flooding and the need to distribute sandbags and beavers.
It is the height of the outdoor season. Large numbers of visitors are expected this weekend. After several weeks of dryness, the danger of forest
fires is very high. As warden in the canton in charge of forest fire danger you must
decide whether to prohibit outdoor fires and if so, for which areas in the canton.
Weather satellites play a key role in meteorology, showing meteorological processes in the atmosphere around the clock on
different scales: from local thunderstorms with the size of a few kilomentres to cold and warm fronts
stretching over several hundred kilometres.
MeteoSwiss obtains satellite data from EUMETSAT, a consortium of European countries which together operate METEOSAT, and from other Earth observation satellites.
They provide an accurate, real-time picture of weather activity for large areas of the Earth. The weather satellites transmit their data every few minutes, allowing for changes in the atmosphere to be tracked continuously.
Automatic measurements and observation of snow cover
The national avalanche warning service, run by the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) in Davos, produces bulletins based on data gathered by 200 trained individuals and 170 automatic measuring stations in various locations across the Swiss Alps. This information is shared and used by the police, cantons, communes, mountain resorts, rescue services and other professionals.
Switzerland's dense avalanche warning network, its high level of training and expertise and its management of avalanche risks were recognised as a global cultural treasure and given UNESCO intangible cultural heritage status in 2018.
170 automatic measuring stations
Manager mountain railway
You manage a mountain railway. As the day progresses, the risk of wet snow avalanches increases. You need up-to-date information to find out whether to close snowshoe hiking paths and ski pistes.
You have planned a hike in the nearby mountains with your school class. Two days before the scheduled date you check the weather forecast. How high is the risk for
thunderstorms for the area where the children will be hiking?
SwissMetNet, the automatic ground level monitoring
network of MeteoSwiss, comprises about 160
automatic monitoring stations. Every ten minutes, the
stations deliver data on the weather and climate in
Switzerland. The monitoring network is supplemented
by automatic precipitation stations. Together they
form the basis for the creation of reliable local
weather forecasts as well as severe weather and
flood warnings, thanks also to high-precision
measurement instruments and state-of-the-art
Due to Switzerland's complex topography, developing and operating this monitoring network poses a particular challenge. In addition, MeteoSwiss operates a number of smaller networks with sensors for specific applications for aviation safety, monitoring around nuclear power plants, and the pollen count.
Aerological sounding station
Radio sounding is one of the pillars of meteorological services. Twice a day, MeteoSwiss carries out radio sounding using sounding balloons for the purpose of measuring key meteorological parameters in the atmosphere at high elevations.
Switzerland's only aerological sounding station is located at the Payerne regional centre of MeteoSwiss. Two soundings are performed here every day at midnight and 12 noon.
160 automatic monitoring stations
Forest fire danger observations and information
Federal Office for the Environment collects the data provided by the cantons and gives an overview of danger locations and measures
being taken by the cantons. The information is published on www.forest-fire-danger.ch and www.natural-hazards.ch in a coherent and timely manner. The information is presented both on a
map that shows the danger level, and on a list that provides the measures. The
experts at cantonal level monitor the situation in the forests.
Accurate weather forecasts are not only fundamental for weather warnings, but also for flood and avalanche warnings. An important basis for the calculation of snow accumulation, runoff and water level is the detailed precipitation forecast produced by the MeteoSwiss numerical weather prediction model, Switzerland’s Federal Office for Meteorology and Climatology, relies on the advanced technology of the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre in Lugano for the computation of its high-resolution weather forecasts.
The supercomputer calculates the forecasts based on a numerical weather model, a mathematical description of the physical processes in the atmosphere. This computation produces information about the future development of all relevant weather parameters in the next hours and days.
This animation of the wind field shows the development of the wind during the next day and is an illustrative example of a forecast calculated by the supercomputer.
Over 150 seismic monitoring stations operated by the
Swiss Seismological Service monitor the seismic
activity in Switzerland and its neighbouring countries
This dense network consists of sophisticated, low- noise stations with real-time communication to processing hubs at ETH Zurich. Data are analysed and events detected within tens of seconds after their occurrence. The processing centre in Zurich acquires data recorded in Switzerland from the Swiss National Network that consists of the Swiss Digital Seismic Network and the Swiss Strong Motion Network, mainly using broadband seismometers and accelerometers.
150 seismic monitoring stations
The free MeteoSwiss app is one of the most downloaded and used weather
apps in Switzerland. Public-service employees and people responsible for civil
protection use it as do the public: from hikers to sailors, from school teachers to
farmers, from construction site to nursing home managers.
The reliability of the data and the app's easy-to-use features contribute to its popularity.
The measurements track weather developments in real time. One of the most-used features shows past and future precipitation distribution. Different types of weather forecasts, which cover up to eight days and are updated several times a day, allow users to plan their activities. They can also subscribe to push notifications for every locality in the country. The app displays all natural-hazard warnings. According to a representative population survey, more than 70% of the respondents use the app regularly,
Natural Hazards Portal
The web portal www.natural-hazards.ch is jointly operated by the federal natural hazard agencies MeteoSwiss, the Federal Office for the Environment, the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research, the Swiss Seismological Service and the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Protection. A single, easy-to- read map indicates extreme weather conditions, floods and landslides, earthquakes, avalanches, and the threat of forest fires. The portal also provides information about the anticipated impact at the different danger levels as well as recommendations on behaviour before, during and after natural hazard events.
Climate Services in the Andes – CLIMANDES
The CLIMANDES project – a joint project of the Peruvian and the Swiss national meteorological services under the auspices of WMO – addresses the climate data chain linking scientific and technological know-how to action.
Covering the last mile and ensuring that climate services reach the end users. CLIMANDES focused on warning farmers in the Andean mountains about climatological hazards such as cold spells or droughts.
Glacier lake outburst flows in the Yarkant river
A glacier lake forming every year behind the tongue of the remote Kyagar glacier in Western China is a threat to about 1 million people and has caused damage of about 10 million dollars annually. Switzerland
has a long experience with Glacier Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs), and Chinese
officials requested Swiss natural-hazard experts to support them with their
expertise and to provide state-of-the-art technical devices for preventing
Cameras and various sensors for the observation of the glacier lake and the Kyagar glacier
had to be transported with camels through the Shaksgam valley due to the lack of access in
The glacier tongue blocks the riverbed in the upper Shaksgam valley and impounds the glacial lake, which has been the cause of several violent and disastrous GLOFs.
Since 2015 the Sino-Swiss Early Warning System recorded six large GLOFs with volumes ranging from 20 to 90 million m3. The investment in this early warning system prevented economic losses of dozens of millions of US dollars.
The Common Information Platform for Natural Hazards (or GIN using the
German acronym) was developed by the federal natural-hazard agencies to
share information relevant for the monitoring of natural hazards, particularly
measurements, forecasts and warnings, with federal, cantonal and municipal
experts. The platform is intended specifically for these experts, who receive
training on its use. GIN is only available to the experts.
Overview of the GIN Platform
Earthquake early warning in Central America – EWARNICA
Central America is exposed to high earthquake hazard. Strong motions strike unexpectedly and cause massive human and economic losses. These can be reduced by an Earthquake Early Warning System.
Warning before strong shaking
The damaging seismic waves that an earthquake emits are preceded by P waves that travel faster but with smaller amplitude. Real-time detection and interpretation of P waves allow for an estimation of the impact of the earthquake, which is used to send a warning before the damaging waves reach the population. Effective earthquake early warning (EEW) is only possible with a dense network of real-time and reliable strong motion seismometers.
(Video animation by SRF Einstein)
EEW alerts are distributed immediately after an earthquake is detected. Tsunami warning systems can also receive EEW information and may issue faster tsunami warnings. Shaking estimates are transmitted to civil protection to coordinate disaster response. The population receives safety instructions via cell phones.
Today, demonstration EEW systems are operational at seismic networks in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica. On 17 August 2018, the system in Costa Rica correctly identified an M6.1 earthquake and would have been able to provide warnings to areas more than 40km from the epicentre.
City Resilience Program in Vietnam
Can Tho is susceptible to flooding caused by Mekong alluvial overflow, high tides, and extreme rainfall events. Given that Can Tho is the primary driver of the region’s economy, this vulnerability and susceptibility has had negative impacts on the economic development of the region. Together with the World Bank, Switzerland supports Can Tho to increase the city’s resilience to adverse climate change related events.
The city has formulated a number of legislative frameworks, policies and action plans to address disaster risks and climate-change impacts. But the implementation of these measures has so far been challenging and applied in a reactive rather than proactive manner. Only basic flood forecasting and early warning systems exist.
In order to move from a flood-response approach to a proactive, coherent and multi-sectoral approach, an integrated flood-risk management and an early warning system are being developed in order to support economic investment, early warning dissemination, as well as disaster preparedness and response.