To warn the population reliably about natural hazards and to support crisis management, we provide situation analyses, forecasts, measurement data, overview maps and other tools, and develop dedicated information platforms.
Timely warnings and a good knowledge of the current situation help to minimise the damage caused by natural hazards. We provide the authorities and the public with extensive information so that they can take protective measures in good time. Our products, services and analyses focus mainly on avalanches, floods, debris flows and drought.
For more than 80 years, we have been responsible for issuing avalanche forecasts and warnings for the whole of Switzerland. Twice a day, our avalanche warning service releases an avalanche bulletin, informing the public, authorities and officials responsible for safety about the current situation. Alongside the avalanche bulletin, we publish extensive additional information including snow cover maps, measurements of snow, wind and temperature, weekly reports and so on.
We also run an operational snow-hydrological service (OSHD), which continuously analyses the spatial and temporal distribution of snow water resources in Switzerland. The OSHD compiles regular snow-hydrological bulletins for the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), which incorporates them directly into its assessments of the hydrological situation.
We develop flood warning models and operational systems that help local and safety authorities to identify flooding at an early stage. For example, our operational flood forecasting system was used during construction work on the Zurich main railway line (critical construction phase 2008-11), thereby helping to make the city safer.
We have joined forces with the other federal agencies responsible for natural hazards to form the Steering Committee on Intervention in Natural Hazards (LAINAT). In addition to the WSL/SLF, the other members are the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), the Federal Office of Meteorology and Climatology (MeteoSwiss), the Federal Office for Civil Protection (FOCP) and the Swiss Seismological Service (SED) at ETH Zurich. When natural hazard events affect more than one agency, we coordinate our assessment of the situation and the associated warnings.
Working with partner institutions, we develop dedicated warning and information platforms to ensure that the authorities responsible for natural hazards and safety, as well as the public, can find exactly the information they need in an emergency, quickly and in a user-friendly format. On these platforms, we provide warnings, measurement data, overview maps and forecasts, many of them in conjunction with the same partners:
- "Avalanche bulletin and snow situation" portal on www.slf.ch and the White Risk mobile app: current avalanche bulletin, snow maps, measurement data, etc.
- Common Information Platform for Natural Hazards (GIN) (SLF, WSL, FOEN, MeteoSwiss, Seismological Service): an information platform for natural hazard experts, designed to protect the population and infrastructure against avalanches and other natural hazards.
- Natural hazards portal www.natural-hazards.ch: information platform for the public, presenting the current natural hazard situation throughout Switzerland at a glance. The federal agencies responsible for monitoring natural hazards (FOEN, MeteoSwiss, SLF, Seismological Service) publish their hazard assessments and warnings on a single map and in natural hazard bulletins on this platform.
- SLF-Pro: information platform for the SLF avalanche warning service and other authorities responsible for natural hazards and safety.
- drought.ch: information platform for the early detection of drought in Switzerland, providing information about current and impending drought and/or water shortages (WSL, ETH, MeteoSwiss, University of Zurich, University of Freiburg (D)).
- Intercantonal Early Warning and Crisis Information System (IFKIS): information platform for the SLF avalanche warning service, SLF observers and authorities responsible for natural hazards and safety. It contains the daily reports of SLF observers, the IFKIS EVAL tool for documenting safety measures, and the IFKIS-MIS measure information system.
A lot more than expert avalanche knowledge and information about snow and weather developments is needed to produce the avalanche bulletin twice a day. Our Warning and Information Systems Team develops tailor-made software solutions that are not available through commercial channels, mainly for avalanche warning services. These include data recording tools for SLF observers, analysis tools, editors for producing the bulletin, and web and mobile applications such as White Risk, which can be used to access the avalanche bulletin.
For debris flows, for example, we develop automatic warning systems that trigger an alarm of sirens and flashing lights when a debris flow is approaching, as happened at Illgraben in the canton of Valais. This allows people in the debris-flow catchment to get to safety in time.