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Protective structures

Shelters and protected premises

Protective structures were designed primarily to protect the population (shelters), and to ensure the readiness of civil protection resources (protected premises) during an armed conflict, especially one involving weapons of mass destruction. They provide a basic form of protection against a wide range of direct and indirect arms impact. They should also be available in the case of disasters and emergencies, for example increased radioactivity, an earthquake or an acute risk of an avalanche.

Shelter space for every inhabitant

To respect the principle of equality, every inhabitant should be guaranteed a shelter in the vicinity of her/his place of residence in the case of armed conflict. Today there are shelters existing for nearly the whole population living in Switzerland. In spite of the large number of shelters (370'000) there may be local shortages. The obligation to construct shelters is maintained.

Cantons regulate shelter construction

Cantons regulate shelter construction according to Federal provisions. They see to it that the obligation to build is obeyed and determine the height of compensation contributions according to Federal legislation. In areas in which there is an insufficient number of shelters, municipalities are obliged to build and equip public shelters. House owners who do not build a shelter, or who live in an area in which the demand is already well covered, must pay compensation to cover the costs of shelter construction and maintenance. Shelters are checked periodically.

Shelters for cultural property

The cantons may obligate owners of cultural property to take or comply with the measures needed for their protection.

Protected premises to ensure management capacities and readiness

The 1700 protected premises include command posts, facilities for rescue units, and protected first aid posts and hospitals. They serve to ensure the management capacities and the readiness of civil protection resources. Command posts serve management and management support functions. Facilities for rescue units are available to the personnel and a part of the equipment of the partner organisation units.

First aid premises

The Confederation defines framework requirements for protected first aid premises. The cantons are obliged to guarantee facilities and treatment in protected hospitals for at least 0.6 percent of the population (combined with an acute care hospital) and in protected first aid posts (not directly linked to an acute care hospital).

Varied level of readiness

At present, an armed conflict with direct repercussions in Switzerland would most probably be preceded by an advance-warning period of several years. This implies that in the short term there is no real use for existing protective structures. On the other hand, there are still a great number of ballistic missiles, with or without weapons of mass destruction, to be found worldwide. Only a limited number of protected premises ready for immediate use will be maintained for training purposes and for the event of a disaster or emergency. The others are to retain their function, with a reduced level of readiness. Regulations on readiness are issued by the Confederation.


The most common types of shelters are private shelters in the basements of v. These usually provide shelter spaces for between 5 and 50 people, depending on the size of the building. Moreover, many communities have larger public shelters (e.g., under schools or administrative buildings).

The cantons are responsible for periodically reviewing the operational readiness and maintenance of shelters in accordance with minimum requirements. Building owners are required to implement the prescribed measures. If the order is issued to occupy the shelters, they must make the surplus places available to the civil protection services free of charge. A shelter must be prepared and made ready for occupation within five days.

The instructions for shelter allocation will be announced when the security policy situation requires it. The cantons and municipalities are instructed to lead the allocation plans and update them regularly. If you wish to know where your shelter is located, please contact the civil defense authorities in your community or canton of residence.

The allocation of shelters (allocation planning) is the responsibility of the cantons. In some cases, this task is delegated to the municipalities. Due to arrivals and departures, births and deaths, available (new) protected places and other changes, the allocation planning is continuously modified and does not have to be published in principle. This is to prevent outdated planning from circulating during an event or disaster, which could lead to insecurity and confusion. However, municipalities are free to provide this information on request.

No, this is not envisaged. The shelter planning is calculated based on the permanent resident population (i.e., those who have lived in the country for over one year). Of course, in the event of an emergency, efforts would be made to provide shelter places for all who seek them. Today, as a matter of principle, there are shelter places for the entire population, but there are differences between cantons, as well as local deficiencies. Some areas, especially certain tourist destinations, have a coverage rate of over 100 percent. Moreover, the actual occupation of a shelter may not fully match the allocation plans – e.g., because some people may be out of town 

As a rule, the owners of private shelters will carry out simple maintenance work, e.g., cleaning the shelter and the emergency exit. No maintenance work may be performed on the technical equipment itself.

The owners of shelters (in a single-family house or apartment building) are required to store bedsteads and chemical toilets for the shelter locally and in dry, clean condition. The equipment has been or will be procured by the building contractor or the municipality upon completion of the construction of the shelter. The cost of the bedsteads and chemical toilets is to be borne by the owners of the shelter.

For large shelters maintained by the municipalities, the equipment will be stored on location or in another suitable place on the site where the shelter is located. The storage area must be clearly indicated in the shelter.

The equipment must be stored on location, or in a clearly indicated place. In some cantons, shelters constructed before 1987 have not been upgraded with bedsteads and chemical toilets. These will only receive the respective equipment in case of need. In communities with large shelters, chemical toilets and bedsteads may have been procured and stored centrally for other nearby shelters. The order to distribute these among operators of smaller shelters will also only be issued if enhanced civil protection measures are ordered. In case of missing equipment, we recommend reaching out to the municipal authorities. 

Shelters are primarily conceived for the case of an armed conflict. They can also be used, however, as emergency accommodation in other scenarios (e.g., during an accident in a nuclear power plant or after an earthquake). Shelters must be able to withstand the effects of modern weapons, i.e., they must primarily offer protection against NBC weapons and nearby impacts of conventional weapons.

In everyday life, shelters are mainly used for other purposes, for instance as basement rooms, as hobby rooms or as clubhouses. If necessary, they can quickly be prepared to serve as shelters for the population. However, preparing the shelters, i.e., clearing them out and furnishing them, is only to be done by order of the authorities.

In case of acute danger, the authorities will alert the population using sirens and issue instructions via radio and Alertswiss.

Shelters are designed to enable shorter or longer stays (lasting from a few hours to several days). The general public should be prepared to feed itself for a period of several days without outside assistance. Therefore, the National Economic Supply (NES) organization recommends storing sufficient emergency provisions for about one week. Emergency provisions should include mainly storable foodstuffs and nine liters of water per person as well as the most important medicines. Beyond this period and in special cases, the authorities may distribute foodstuffs, water and other important goods, for instance in collaboration with the civil defense authorities. 

Please click here to find out how you can receive radio broadcasts in a shelter.

As a matter of principle, shelters are not designed to accommodate animals in addition to humans. In individual cases, for example depending on the size and occupancy of the shelter in question, as well as the type of animal, it may be possible to bring an animal to the shelter.

Yes. In principle, people should be able to feed themselves for several days without outside help, even if they are in a shelter. The Federal Office for National Economic Supply (FONES) advises to build up emergency supplies, primarily consisting of a one week supply of non-perishable food and 9 litres of water per person. Important drugs should also be stocked up. Beyond this period and in special cases, the authorities can distribute food, water and other essential goods, for example with the support of civil protection.

No, cooking with alcohol or gas stoves is not allowed in public shelters because of the risk of fire, the additional consumption of oxygen, the strong odours and the steam that is released during cooking and cannot be evacuated.

The basic rule in Switzerland is “A shelter place for each resident”: About 9 million shelter places are available in approximately 350,000 private and public shelters. This corresponds to a coverage rate of over 100 percent, though cantonal, regional and local discrepancies remain.

Federal Office for Civil Protection FOCP Guisanplatz 1B
CH-3003 Bern


Federal Office for Civil Protection FOCP

Guisanplatz 1B
CH-3003 Bern