Catastrophic flooding spotlights Germany’s poor disaster preparedness
By Florian Gathmann, Hubert Gude, Christoph Hickmann, Christiane Hoffmann, Martin Knobbe, Philipp Kollenbroich, Roman Lehberger, Marcel Rosenbach, Jonas Schaible and Christoph Seidler
But what consequences do these severe weather warnings have? That’s where the DWD’s responsibility ends. "We lack the local knowledge to derive actions from the weather forecast,” the federal office explains. Those 200 liters of rain, it says, would have a very different impact in low-lying areas than in low mountain ranges with many slopes.
This is where the problem starts. The German states, and in many cases the local districts, are responsible for disaster management, and it is they who should have had to translate what the meteorologists’ predictions mean on the ground.
The old sirens were difficult to hear through the new, double-glazed windows that had been installed in homes, and they were absent altogether in newly developed areas. The Cold War had ended by then, and the federal government declared the sirens to be superfluous. Municipalities were told they could continue to operate them, but only at their own expense. Many decided against it, and ultimately much of the system was dismantled without being replaced by new technology.
There may be apps now to warn the public, but there are also many problems. Rather than a centralized solution, several exist in parallel.