Civil defence shelters

Frequently asked questions about civil defence shelters in Geneva. This FAQ is regularly updated.

Under what circumstances should I go to a shelter?

Shelters are primarily designed to protect people from armed conflict. They can also be used as emergency accommodation, for example, in the event of an accident in a nuclear power plant or an earthquake. Shelters must protect against the effects of modern weapons, especially against the penetration of nuclear, biological or chemical warfare agents (NBC warfare agents) and against collateral damage from conventional weapons. 

In everyday life, most shelters are used for other purposes. For example, they are used as a cellar, workshop or storage room or for company meetings. According to article 106 of the Ordinance on Civil Protection (OCPI) (in French: article 106 de l'Ordonnance sur la Protection civile), shelters must be made ready for use for the protection of the population within 5 days at the latest. The preparation of shelters, i.e. tidying up and setting up activites, must only be carried out when ordered by the authorities. 

In the event of a concrete danger, the authorities warn the population by means of sirens and issue instructions on how to behave on the radio and via Alertswiss.

In 1986, when the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster occurred, no one in Switzerland had to go to a protective shelter or take iodine tablets.


How do I know which shelter I should go to?

Before receiving a possible order to join a shelter, the Confederation will issue an order to prepare the shelters. Between these two orders (to prepare the shelter and the possibility, if the order is given, to join it) it should take, on average, 5 days. This delay will provide time for the transmission of information on the allocation of shelter places. It is therefore not possible at present to know one's place because the order to communicate the allocation of places will come only from the Confederation. 

The order to prepare a shelter does not necessarily mean that it will be followed by an order to join it.

More information (FOCP)

How will I know when I need to go to a shelter? How will I be warned?

All the sirens in the country will sound and you will have to listen to the radio or watch television to find out what to do. It is also recommended that you download as of now the federal application Alertswiss  which will transmit all necessary information on the current situation. 

If an alert is issued, behavioural instructions issued by the federal government are mandatory.

In the event of an alert, you must avoid:

  • Using emergency services (except in cases of extreme necessity)
  • Using your mobile phone and communication networks in order not to overload the networks
  • Using a vehicle or other means of transport only in an emergency. 

More information (FOCP)

How can I prepare for this crisis?

Several federal websites can help you prepare.

Currently, no specific measures are recommended to the population.


I don't have a private shelter, which is the nearest one?

Allocation of shelters is announced when security requires it. The cantons and municipalities are obliged to manage the allocation plan and to keep it up to date.

It is currently not possible to find out which shelter you have been allocated. The information will be communicated when the Confederation has given the order to prepare the shelters, i.e. in principle 5 days before joining them.

Do I have an officially allocated place?

Allocation of a protected place is done according to the communal allocation plan set up by the civil protection organisation (CPO) of your commune of residence.

Is it possible to accommodate in the same shelter a family whose members don't live under the same roof?

No, shelter places are allocated according to the proximity of the place of residence. 

Who is entitled to a place in a shelter?

According to the Federal Law on Civil Protection and Civil Defence (LPPCi) (in French: Loi fédérale sur la protection de la population et la Protection Civile), every inhabitant must be granted a protected spot near his or her place of residence.

Where is my shelter space and that of the members of my family?

Your spot in a shelter is necessarily located in the immediate vicinity of your place of residence. 

My mother has reduced mobility, but we live far apart, albeit in the same canton. Who will help her down to the shelter and who will look after her?

If the obligation to go to a shelter is activated, a person with reduced mobility should anticipate the need for help to get to the shelter. Assistance may be requested from a neighbour. This is a matter of solidarity.

My family from abroad is visiting us. If the authorities order us to go down to the shelters, will they be able to join us even if the capacity of the shelter is filled with the inhabitants of the building?

In case of emergency, your family from abroad can go to the shelter even if the capacity is reached. However, there is a risk of a potential dispute with the officially allocated occupants. Therefore, in case of prolonged stay in the shelters, these persons should be reassigned to another location by the civil protection organisation responsible for the allocation plan.

How many shelters are there in Geneva?

There are approximately 12,000 shelters in the canton of Geneva. This represents a coverage rate of 84% (figures from the Federal Office for Civil Protection - FOCP).


Does the canton of Geneva have enough places?

The coverage rate is constantly increasing and the communes are working without delay to meet their legal obligations. 

What happens if the shelter in which I have a place is full?

In case of emergency, you should go to the shelter in which a place is allocated and follow the instructions given as soon as the occupancy order is issued by the Confederation.

It seems that the shelter is located in my neighbour's basement. How can I access it?

There may be shelters shared by several owners. If a space is allocated in a neighbour's shelter, the neighbour is obliged to allow the beneficiary to occupy his or her spot. 


I am a citizen of Geneva and I live in France. Can I benefit from a place in a shelter in Geneva?

According to the Federal Law on the Protection of the Population and Civil Protection (LPPCi) (in French: Loi fédérale sur la protection de la population et la Protection Civile, only the inhabitants are entitled to a protected place (permanent resident population). 

However, it is obvious that this will depend on the situation. If we were to have enough time (a few days) to prepare and reach the shelters at a specific time communicated by the authorities, professional activities would probably be suspended and everyone would have to move to their assigned spot in their place of residence. People who do not live in the canton should then contact the relevant authorities in their canton or country. Depending on the situation, every effort will naturally be made to protect as many people as possible. 

Since Geneva's shelter capacity coverage is insufficient, who has priority for a place in a shelter?

According to the Federal Law on Civil Protection and Civil Defence (LPPCi) (in French: Loi fédérale sur la protection de la population et la Protection Civile), it is the people living in the commune according to the established allocation plan. Depending on the situation, every effort will of course be made to protect as many people as possible.

Who decides who can join a shelter?

The organisation allocation plan determines the distribution. 

How long do I have to reach a shelter?

It has been calculated that the shelter should be reachable as quickly as possible, so it is located close to your home.

Do I have to empty my cellar to prepare the shelters?

Yes, if the cellar is used as a shelter. However, the cellar should not be emptied until the authorities have ordered you to do so.

Who will come to help us empty the cellars of our building if there is an emergency?

It is up to each person to empty and prepare his or her shelter, even if it means asking for help from neighbours.

Will the wooden dividers in the cellars be used to make the beds?

This depends on the type of bed planned in the shelter. In most cases beds should be stored near the shelter. 

The door of my shelter does not close properly; can the civil protection come and assist me? If not, who?

Maintenance of a shelter is the responsibility of the owner. If the door is not operational, the owner must commission a private company to do the repair.

How long can one stay in a shelter?

Shelters are designed to allow for short or extended stays (from a few hours to several days). The population should be able to provide for itself for several days without external assistance. The Federal Office for National Economic Supply (FONES) therefore advises people to stock up on domestic provisions for about a week. These include, primarily, storable foodstuffs and 9 litres of water per person, plus essential medicines. Beyond this period and in special cases, the authorities can distribute food, water and other basic goods, for example with the support of civilian protection.

Can animals be brought into the shelters?

The aim is to provide shelters for the whole population. Shelters are not designed to accommodate pets. However, it is possible to bring a pet into a shelter in certain cases, depending on the size and occupation of the shelter. 

If I prefer to stay at home, is it enough to close the windows and block all possible exits?

It is always advisable to go to a shelter when the competent authority orders it.  

What are the different types of shelters?

The best known type of shelter is the private shelter in the cellar of a single-family house or a rental property. This type of shelter generally offers a protected space for 5 to 50 people, depending on the size of the building. Many municipalities also have large public shelters. They are located, for example, under school or administrative buildings.

Who is responsible for the maintenance of private shelters? And public shelters?

Private and public shelters must be maintained by their owners. 

How do I purchase a new dry toilet?

You can go directly to the approved suppliers. 

How many shelters are there in Switzerland?

In Switzerland, the principle of "one protected place per inhabitant" applies. Some 365,000 private and public shelters have around 9 million protected places. This represents a coverage rate of more than 100%, taking into account the differences between cantons, regions and localities.