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Shelters for the population

A shelter is a subterranean construction in the basement of a building. Shelters (also known colloquially as ‘air raid shelters’) serve to protect the population from armed conflicts, but may also offer protection from natural or human-made disasters. The majority of the population lives in buildings that include shelters of their own. If there is no shelter in an inhabited building, public shelters for the general population will be available in the vicinity. The construction and equipment of shelters are standardized and determined by technical specifications.

Protection during armed conflict

Shelters are mainly conceived for the case of an armed conflict. Shelters must be able to withstand the effects of modern weapons, i.e., they must mainly provide protection against NBC agents and near hits of conventional weapons.

Shelters for everyone

As a rule, in Switzerland there is ‘a shelter for every inhabitant’: Approximately nine million shelter places are available in about 370’000 private and public shelters. This is equivalent to a coverage rate of more than 100 percent. However, coverage differs between cantons, and local gaps remain.

Structure of a shelter

Shelters are constructed and equipped in a spartan manner to minimise costs, space requirements, and maintenance efforts. The focus is on the protective effectiveness:

  • The mechanical robustness of a shelter is due to its protective shell (floor, walls, ceiling), constructed from reinforced concrete. Apertures are closed off with blast doors and blast-resistant covers that are also made from reinforced concrete.
  • The shelter has an emergency exit or escape tunnel. This enables occupants to leave it even if the entrance is no longer usable (e.g., in case of a collapsed building).
  • To ensure fresh air supply, the shelter is equipped with a ventilation system. This includes the air intake, the explosion protection valve and the prefilter, the ventilation unit, and the gas filter, as well as the overpressure and explosion protection valve.
  • Larger shelters have airlocks. These ensure that no ambient air is admitted to the shelter when occupants leave and enter while the ventilation system is in operation.

Shelter with airlock

Shelters are standardised and built with tested components. Moreover, they can have different sizes and floor plans. The number of places a shelter offers depends on its size. The best-known examples are private shelters in the basements of detached houses or apartment buildings. This will generally offer places for 5 to 50 occupants, depending on the size of the house or apartment block. Many communities also have major public shelters (e.g., under schools or administrative buildings), which may offer several hundred places.

Shelter equipment

Owners must stock their shelters with the supplies needed for an extended stay. (New) shelters must be equipped with bedsteads and waterless toilets.

Order to move into shelter

The authorities will continuously monitor and assess the development of the security policy situation. In case of a looming armed conflict in Switzerland or a neighbouring country, the population will be instructed to prepare to move into the shelters. Shelters must be in a state allowing them to be made operational and ready for use within five days. The aim is to have sufficient time to be able to move to the shelters in an orderly fashion.

Preparing shelters

Once the order is given, the shelters must be cleared out and furnished (the latter, if necessary, following instructions from the civil protection authorities). Apart from the technical equipment (ventilation, lighting), all material should be removed as a rule. No flammable material may be stored directly beside or above the shelter. Moreover, the underground rooms adjoining the shelter should be used for stores and objects that are necessary for survival, but for which no space is available in the shelter itself.

Allocation of shelter spaces

The cantons and municipalities must plan and regularly update the allocation of the public to shelter places. Allocation plans will be published when the security policy situation requires it. Municipalities and cantons can issue information via multiple channels, such as websites, public notices, mail, and/or on location (e.g., with the help of the civil protection authorities). Once the order to move to shelters has been given, i.e., when the time has come to install oneself in the shelter, the population will move to the shelter places that have been allocated to them beforehand by the municipal or civil protection authorities.

Moving into shelters

A distinction must be made between moving to shelters as a precaution and taking refuge in shelters in case of acute danger. Many emergency provisions (especially beverages and non-perishable foodstuffs) can be stored in or near the shelter at an early stage. Even when in the shelter, members of the public should as a rule be equipped to supply themselves autonomously for several days without help from outside. Before leaving the apartment in case of danger, the following points should be observed:

  • Follow the instructions issued by the authorities
  • Prepare emergency gear (including personal documents)
  • Procure a battery-operated VHF radio and spare batteries
  • Prepare food (including special dietary and infant foods) as well as medicines
  • Close windows and doors, switch off electric devices, turn off gas mains, and extinguish open fires (fireplaces, candles)
  • Inform and, if necessary, help building residents
  • Accommodate pets as well as possible and supply them with water and food
  • When the official order is issued, close blast door and blast-resistant covers, and turn on ventilation.

Mandatory construction of shelters

The duty to build shelters remains in effect, especially in order to close gaps in the shelter infrastructure and keep up with population growth. Nowadays the emphasis is on preserving the existing infrastructure, whereby maintenance and renovation are of particular importance.

Construction of new shelters

If insufficient shelter places are available in a municipality, house owners must build, equip, and maintain shelters when constructing residential buildings. However, as a rule, new shelters must now only be built for major apartment complexes (from 38 rooms, or 25 shelter spaces). Exceptions are possible for municipalities with populations of less than 1’000. In areas where not enough shelter spaces are available, the municipalities must construct, equip, and maintain (public) shelters. If no shelter is included in a newly constructed building, the owner must pay a compensation fee instead.

Responsibilities and financing

Managing shelter construction is the responsibility of the cantons. The federal authorities set the requisite rules. Homeowners bear the costs of construction, equipment, and maintenance of shelters. Public municipal shelters are financed with the compensation fees. Moreover, the compensation fees may also be used for renovation of private shelters and for additional purposes such as periodic shelter inspections.

Everyday use

A shelter may be used for everyday purposes, for example as a storage room, basement, workshop, playroom, or archive. Any such usage for purposes apart from civil protection must comply with regulations regarding workplace safety, electric installations, fire protection, etc., and no changes may be made to the protective shell (floor, walls, ceiling), the blast doors and blast-resistant covers, or the ventilation system. Any projects for adaptations and changes to the structure or the technical protective installations must be approved by the responsible authorities.

Maintenance duties

The owners have a duty to provide maintenance and to keep the shelter and its furnishings accessible, in particular for the periodic checks (at least every ten years). Basic maintenance work includes cleaning the shelter and emergency exit. Less frequent upkeep work on the technical equipment must be carried out by specialists.

Technical directives for private shelter construction (TWP)

Cancellation of shelters

The cantons can withdraw approval for shelters that no longer meet basic requirements. Shelters that do meet the basic requirements may be cancelled

  • if the shelter would make a refurbishment of existing buildings disproportionately difficult or impossible,
  • if the shelter is in a severely endangered area,
  • if there is a surplus of shelter spaces,
  • if renovation would cause disproportionately high costs.


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.

The owners of private shelters generally carry out simple maintenance work, e.g. cleaning the shelter and the emergency exit. This applies to all shelters, including the smallest (up to seven places). 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 must 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.

About 9 million shelter places are available in approximately 370,000 private and public shelters.

As the owner, you may maintain your shelter even if it is no longer an official one, i.e. it is no longer included in allocation planning. In the event of an armed conflict, you are free to choose whether to move into the shelter provided to you or to use your own shelter.

There are no plans to abolish small shelters altogether. If over 40 years old, their ventilation and filter systems must be replaced, as their efficiency declines after this time. It makes neither economic nor organisational sense to operate small shelters throughout Switzerland. For this reason, no new small shelters have been built for years. It should be considered on an individual basis whether it is worth maintaining a small shelter or whether places should be allocated in a public shelter. In some cases, protected premises that are no longer needed by management bodies and civil defence can be converted for the public.


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


Federal Office for Civil Protection FOCP

Guisanplatz 1B
CH-3003 Bern