German authorities faced pressure on Tuesday to set aside longstanding privacy concerns and send mobile phone alerts directly to people in potential disaster zones following the devastation wrought by last week’s catastrophic floods.
Unlike many other countries, including Japan, Israel and New Zealand, Germany has no way of sending text messages en masse to citizens about extreme weather events, partly due to the experience of oppressive surveillance in the country’s formerly communist east and under Hitler’s Nazi regime.
Some government ministers and senior officials have already called for a change as Angela Merkel’s government fends off accusations that its preparedness systems were woefully lacking, despite severe weather warnings from meteorologists.
“This flood disaster must be a wake-up call to everyone that we should not only discuss data protection, but also the real protection of citizens against disasters,” Transport minister Andreas Scheuer told Bild, Germany’s biggest circulation daily.
The floods, which have killed at least 170 people and caused untold destruction, have dominated the political agenda some 10 weeks before a national election in September and raised uncomfortable questions about how Europe’s richest economy could be caught flat-footed.
Search efforts are continuing in Western Europe in the aftermath of devastating floods in Germany and Belgium: