Why weren’t all residents of Germany’s flood zones warned via text?

German authorities are under fire over allegations that they did not give enough warning to residents over the fatal flooding. Now there are calls for a mass texting alert system, which is not in place yet partly due to privacy concerns.

Why weren't all residents of Germany's flood zones warned via text?
The scene in Bad Münstereifel, North Rhine-Westphalia, on Tuesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

More than 160 people have died, hundreds are injured and towns and infrastructure has been destroyed in the flooding that hit western German regions last week.

As the clean-up and search for missing people continues, more people are asking what went wrong – and if authorities could have done more to warn people of the floods. 

“In the worst flood disaster in nearly 60 years in Germany, with at least 165 deaths, disaster management failed to warn citizens,” wrote Bild newspaper in a damning report. “Barely functioning sirens, no early evacuations and data protection prevented warning text messages to all affected citizens.”

In an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper, British Professor of Hydrology Hannah Cloke called the German flood disaster “a monumental failure of the system” and blamed “breaks in the chain” of preparation.

Why does Germany not use text messages to warn people?

Local authorities in Germany use sirens, loudspeaker announcements or radio and TV bulletins to warn residents of acute danger or issue evacuation orders.

Warnings are also issued via apps like Nina or Katwarn on smartphones. But there appears to have been a breakdown in communication last week. 

READ ALSO: German flood disaster – what went wrong?

Some survivors told reporters on the ground that they didn’t see any official warnings, and instead were informed by family members, neighbours or friends.

Due to the flooding, however, some places were cut off from the outside world due to power failures, making it more difficult to warn people. 

On Tuesday federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer told Bild that he wanted German politicians to implement a so-called cell broadcast system. This would see SMS alerts sent out to all mobile network users, either in a country or specific area in just a few seconds, in case of emergencies.

Germany has chosen not to base its widespread emergency alerts on this system, unlike other countries such as the Netherlands, Greece, Romania, Italy, or the USA.

“I am in favour of having these push messages reach citizens via mobile phone providers as well,” the CSU politician told Bild. “But that has always failed because the political will has been lacking in some places.”

Bild reported that Germany doesn’t have this system due to data protection concerns. Germany is known for having a sensitive approach when it comes to privacy. 

Scheuer added: “Protection of the population is paramount: we have data protection, but we also need data accountability – especially for information for citizens.”

READ ALSO: Rebuilding Germany’s flood ravaged areas ‘could take years’

According to Bild, in Germany SMS warning messages can only be sent to recipients who have agreed to this beforehand.

However, there is an exception to this, reports Bild – the Covid pandemic. Mobile phone users, for instance, receive a text when they arrive in the country from abroad alerting them of the quarantine and travel rules in Germany. 

So far, the introduction of warning messages being sent directly to everyone’s phone has failed due to data protection, Scheuer said.

“This catastrophe will for once bring home the reality to many in the political discussion,” said Scheuer. “We have the data, but we must now have the legal possibilities, the tools, that our institutions also reach the citizen with this information.”

The Local has asked the Transport Ministry for more clarification on Germany’s emergency alert system and why text messaging is not used widely. 

The UK recently brought in a new emergency alert system to warn people about serious situations such as terror attacks, flooding or public health emergencies. 

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Will Germany see more snow this winter?

Over the weekend, large parts of Germany saw early snowfall, but will it continue throughout the winter?

Will Germany see more snow this winter?

Many parts of Germany experienced an early white Christmas over the weekend, as snow fell from Berlin to the Baltic Sea. Hesse also saw at least the first swirl of snowflakes and there was light snow in the Siegerland and the Hochsauerland districts of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Some areas of the country were hit particularly hard by the snow – a few centimetres of snow fell in Kassel, while large parts of Bavaria experienced heavy snowfall on Saturday.

READ ALSO: Surviving winter: 8 tips for enjoying the cold like a true German

There were also numerous accidents on icy roads in North Rhine-Westphalia, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein and Bavaria. 

Will there be more snowfall this week?

Snowfall is expected at the beginning of the week in some areas in Thuringia and Saxony, while further south, there is likely to be snowfall only at high altitudes – such as in the Bavarian Alps.

Snow lies on the beach in Zingst, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Georg Moritz

In the coming days, temperatures will rise again and the weather will become milder. According to the German Weather Service (DWD) temperatures will hover between 5C and 12C for most of the country, while only the northeast and east see maximum temperatures of 0C to 4C.

Will there be more snow this winter?

2022 has already broken weather records in Germany – the period from January to the end of October was the warmest since weather records began almost 140 years ago.

READ ALSO: ‘A glimpse into our climate future’: Germany logs warmest October on record

Various weather models have already simulated the coming winter in Europe and Germany and provide estimations on how much warmer the coming winter is likely to be than from the years 1961 to 1990.

The models created by NASA, DWD, and the Climate Forecast System all agree that trend of rising temperatures will probably continue over the winter. Between December and February, it’s expected that the mercury will be between 1C and 3C higher than it was between 1961 and 1990. 

Meteorologist Corinna Borau from told the Frankfurter Rundschau that she thinks that it’s extremely unlikely that there will be further snowfall in December in Germany.

“If the month looks rather dry and too mild overall, then we can’t expect large amounts of snow” Borau said. 

According to Borau, January is unlikely to be a “snow bomb” either, though it will still “feel like winter” and snow is only expected to fall sporadically. In February, however, the chances of snowfall are higher than in previous months.