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WSL wide informations

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Prevention and protection as research goals

Naturgefahren WSL/SLF

The flooding in August 2005 and the avalanche tragedy at the beginning of January 2010 in the Diemtigtal confirmed once again that natural hazards can still cause considerable damage in Switzerland. Our research and services at WSL help to improve ways of protecting people from such hazardous events. Designing effective protection schemes requires knowing what causes natural hazards and how they affect particular terrains. That is why WSL’s experimental stations, which are unique worldwide, are so useful. There researchers can start and then observe avalanches, debris flow, rockfall and landslides under nearly natural conditions. The resulting data help us improve our understanding of the individual processes involved in these hazards. They also serve as input to various computer models, such as RAMMS and Alpine3D, which support researchers and users in analysing and assessing natural hazards.

Developing and testing protection systems

The best way to protect people against natural hazards is to make sure they avoid the risk areas, either permanently through careful spatial planning or temporarily through timely evacuation. If this is not possible, then technical protection structures will have to be installed. We work with industrial partners on designing and testing protection systems, such as avalanche dams or rockfall nets, and act as consultants for those using such installations in Switzerland and abroad.

Warning and information systems help us be well-prepared

Timely warning about impending natural hazard events can save lives and prevent severe damage to property. The SLF avalanche warning service issues its Avalanche Bulletin twice a day, and this service is essential for the country. At SLF and WSL we have also developed two Internet-based information platforms for avalanches and hydrological hazards: IFKIS and IFKIS-Hydro. Here those responsible for local safety can find observation data, measurements, forecasts, and warnings, as well as models to support them in decision making and acting promptly in the event of a crisis. For example, they can obtain information at any time on the amount of water expected in the river Sihl, which flows through Zurich, so that the local authorities can take appropriate steps in good time to prevent flooding of the main station. Researchers at SLF are working further on IFKIS and IFKIS-Hydro, together with the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN, Meteoswiss, and the Swiss Seismological Service, to develop the internet-based Common Information Platform GIN, which will provide a compact visualization of hazard information for Switzerland.