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Alarm at the civil protection - Even the "warning day" overwhelms some regions

At 11 a.

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Alarm at the civil protection - Even the "warning day" overwhelms some regions

At 11 a.m. sharp on Thursday, the sirens wail across the country, and warning apps and the new Cell Broadcast warning system sound the alarm on cell phones. And on the display boards of the Deutsche Bahn and the cities flicker indications that although this is an exercise, the disaster would be announced - if it has to be declared. That is the plan.

But it is questionable whether the test operation of this second nationwide warning day since the end of the Cold War will actually run so smoothly. And there can be no question of a nationwide, area-wide alarm, as planned and announced.

In the state of Berlin, for example, the warning day is cancelled, and a whole range of municipalities in the rest of the state are not participating. Because not all government agencies are prepared for the large-scale exercise. And this takes place on a voluntary basis. Exercises of this kind are urgently needed. Comprehensive, mandatory and regular. “Overall, Germany is not optimally positioned when it comes to civil protection,” says Andreas Kling, consultant for critical infrastructure and civil protection. And that's not just because of underfunding.

"Crisis management has deficiencies, too little is practiced for emergencies, sirens have been dismantled on a large scale and some of them have not yet been replaced," Kling sums up. “The organizational structures are suboptimal, and the population as a whole is not adequately prepared for states of emergency. There is also not the necessary awareness of having to arm oneself – the authorities make that far too little clear.”

Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser (SPD) has now announced a "restart in civil protection" and appointed Ralph Tiesler, an experienced crisis manager, to head the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) in the summer. The warning day this Thursday is now the first major acid test for the head of the authorities - and is a double challenge.

Because the previous warning day in 2020 was such a failure that the originally planned repetition for the following year was cancelled. The first thing to do was to remedy the serious shortcomings, and that would take time. During the exercise in September 2020, countless users of warning apps such as "Nina" or "Katwarn" were alerted late or not at all. The warning system was completely overloaded. In the event of a disaster, civil protection would have been an extensive failure even at level one.

Since then, the authorities have been working on technical improvements, network stability and protection against cybercrime. BBK President Tiesler sees himself sufficiently prepared for the warning day: "We are well prepared," he says. The Kiel crisis researcher Frank Roselieb does not believe that: "I expect that on this warning day it will be jerky and not quite smooth. New technology is being used,” he says, referring to the cell broadcast system, which can be used to warn cell phone users who do not have apps. "Apart from that, citizens don't even know how to react to this problem alarm this Thursday," criticizes Roselieb. The advance information was "quite poor".

"The BBK had 17 years to prepare for the warning day 2020 and was not successful at the time. One wonders why things should go better this time," says the crisis researcher.

The flood disaster on the Ahr in the summer of 2021 impressively showed how little Germany is prepared for states of emergency and crisis management. A weak point showed and shows again and again with one of the first measures to protect people: warning the population and providing them with information about the extent of the emergency and instructions on how those affected should react.

Unlike other countries, Germany no longer has a nationwide siren network. Accordingly, there are no longer any nationwide test alarms, no longer the warning offices as before and no longer responsible officials in the other authorities. Austria, for example, has a comprehensive, operational network of 8,300 systems. The Netherlands is also closely stocked, as a rule the sirens are tested there every first Monday of the month at 12 noon. In Germany, efforts are now being made to replace the dismantled systems.

The German Association of Towns and Municipalities warns of widespread power failures in the coming months. Anyone who wants to prepare for a blackout can find emergency checklists on the Internet – for example from the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance.

Quelle: WELT/ Svend Homburg

The case of Berlin shows how difficult that is. By the end of the year, 400 new sirens were supposed to be installed. In fact, by August there weren't even two dozen. "It's not going the way I imagine it, I'll say that openly here," Interior Senator Iris Spranger (SPD) recently admitted. "Countries like the USA, Switzerland or Austria show how risk communication and disaster prevention work, countries like Sweden or Finland show that in the case of civil protection," says civil protection expert Kling. "We in Germany, on the other hand, have indulged in a certain carelessness for too long."

However, it is also true that Germany has not been exposed to natural disasters to the same extent as the hurricane country USA. And that in previously non-aligned countries such as Scandinavia, which are close to Russia, civil defense traditionally has a higher priority.

The fact that the federal government has made money available to the federal states for the installation of sirens, although warning the population in the event of a disaster is a matter for the federal states, shows that there is now a slow rethinking in this country. However, this reveals another problem in the event of a crisis in Germany: that of responsibilities. The states are required when it comes to disasters, the federal government has responsibility for civil protection, which is part of civil defense.

The causes of the respective crises are different, but the measures that then have to be taken, for example warning people, are similar. Among other things, when an alarm is triggered by sirens. “This artificial separation makes no sense, it must be eliminated. It belongs in one hand,” demands crisis expert Kling. Then, as with the warning day on December 8th, which is not nationwide, individual states such as Berlin could not swerve. Instead, they would have to have their warning systems up and running by the deadline.

The fact that the BBK looks at the goings-on in countries like Berlin with apparent composure not only has to do with the responsibilities, but also with the fact that the civil protection authority only partially relies on sirens anyway and is increasingly relying on the digital warning of the population want. On the apps mentioned and on Cell Broadcast. Because all you need is a cell phone, without having to download an app.

In other countries, this system has long been part of the national warning strategy of the governments, Germany should have followed it long ago. An EU directive obliges the federal government to do this. It is now due to be launched in February. If it passes the big test on Thursday.

"Kick-off Politics" is WELT's daily news podcast. The most important topic analyzed by WELT editors and the dates of the day. Subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music or directly via RSS feed.

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