Switzerland to get nationwide disaster alert system

A smartphone alert app, to warn the public of natural disasters or terrorist attacks, is set to be launched by the Swiss government.

Switzerland to get nationwide disaster alert system
An armed Swiss policeman. Photo: AFP

The app should be ready by autumn 2017, with versions for both iOS and Android devices.

“People no longer just be warned by sirens and radio,” the call for tenders explains, according to 20 Minuten. “In the future, the spread of local information should be done via a push notification for all phases of an event.”

The government also intends to use the app more frequently than radio alerts or sirens are currently used, in order to keep the public better informed.

The Federal Office for Civil Protection (FOCP) first announced its plans to build an app in late July, reportedly inspired by the swift response of German police to the Munich shooting. Then, local police used social media networks to communicate with the public and issue instructions as well as timely updates on the situation.

Now a call for tenders has been issued – a necessity under World Trade Organization (WTO) guidelines, as projects exceeding 230,000 francs must be open for competition. The final cost of the project is not yet known and will depend on the offers received.

The system will use an existing app as its basis; Alertswiss 1.0, which was created by company Zurich Ubique Engineering, in 2015. Alertswiss issues information about attacks or disasters and advice on what to do in order to stay safe and minimize damage, for example during floods.

This app cost 148,304 francs to build and has been downloaded 38,000 times, but the government hopes the new version will be even more widely used.

The idea is similar to a national alert system launched in France ahead of the Euro 2016 championships, following the co-ordinated attacks across Paris in November last year.

However, makers of the French app came under fire in July, when the app took hours to update following the truck attack in Nice on Bastille Day which left 86 dead and hundreds more injured. The SAIP app did not alert users until around 90 minutes after the event.

And even in this early stage, the Swiss plan has also attracted criticism.

A telecoms expert at Verivox, Ralf Beyeler, criticized the “reliance on technology which would overload the mobile networks in case of crisis,” Le Matin reported.

Beyeler favoured the use of a Cell Broadcast system instead, a system less liable to crash under heavy traffic and which is used as part of Japan's earthquake warning system.

For members


UPDATE: Woman jailed for nine years for knife attack on Swiss shoppers

In a rare case of alleged Islamist "terrorism" in Switzerland, a woman was jailed for nine years on Monday for the brutal knife attack on two shoppers at an upscale department store.

UPDATE: Woman jailed for nine years for knife attack on Swiss shoppers

A Swiss woman accused of slashing two people in the name of the Islamic State group in an upmarket shop
was sentenced on Monday to nine years prison coupled with psychiatric treatment.

The criminal court judges found the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, guilty of two counts of attempted murder, and of violating the Swiss laws against association with Al-Qaeda, IS and related Islamist groups.

The woman, who has not been named, tried to slit the throats of two women shopping at the Manor store in Lugano, in Switzerland’s southern, Italian-speaking Ticino region on November 24, 2020.

The attacker, 28 at the time, was accused of committing a “jihadist knife attack” and had “intended to kill her victims and to commit a terrorist act on behalf of IS” (the Islamic State group), the attorney general’s office said earlier this year.

Random victims

On the day of the attack, the woman had gone to Manor’s kitchen supply division on the fifth floor, picked out a large bread knife and approached a random woman standing nearby.

Grabbing her from behind, the assailant plunged the knife at least 10 centimetres into her throat, missing her main carotid artery “by a few millimetres”, the court heard. 

As she screamed “Allahu akbar” (God is greatest) and “I will avenge the Prophet Mohammed”, she struck the victim to the ground, and then moved on to a second woman, stabbing the knife towards her face and shouting “I am here for

The second woman suffered defensive wounds to her right hand, but managed with help from others to overpower her attacker and hold her until police arrived.

“The suspect acted wilfully and with particular ruthlessness,” prosecutors said, maintaining that she had acted “with the aim of killing (her victims) and thereby spreading terror throughout the population on behalf of the ‘Islamic State’.”

Mental health problems

Police quickly discovered the alleged assailant had been linked to a 2017 jihadism investigation.

After “falling in love” over social media with a jihadist fighter in Syria, she had attempted in 2017 to travel to the war-torn country to meet him, but was stopped by Turkish authorities at the Syrian border and sent back to Switzerland, it is alleged.

Upon her return, she was deemed to have mental health problems. She was admitted to a psychiatric clinic and fell off the security police radar until the attack three years later, police said.

The assailant had reportedly once been married to a Muslim asylum seeker and had converted to Islam.

‘Very rare’

Experts said the trial marked a rare event, pointing out that such attacks are almost unheard of in the wealthy Alpine country.

Switzerland has never experienced a large-scale terror attack, though it did suffer two other individual knife attacks in 2020 by people with suspected jihadist ties.

“In Switzerland, it’s been very random and very rare that we have people that conduct terrorist attacks,” Christina Schori Liang, a terrorism expert at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, told AFP.

It is even rarer that the alleged jihadist attacker is a woman.

“Isis has never claimed an attack carried out by a woman,” Damien Ferre, founder of the Jihad Analytics group which analyses global and cyber jihad, told AFP.

While there were reports of women carrying out attacks in the battle for Mosul in Iraq in 2004, he stressed that “it was never proven and the group did not communicate about it.”