At the height of the Cold War in 1963, Switzerland passed a law requiring every citizen to have a place to shelter in case of an attack. In 1978, the government took the added step of requiring every new building with at least 10 units to have a bomb shelter able to withstand a 12-megaton explosion at a distance of 700 meters. Those that opt not to are fined.
As Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant burned under Russian assault, I decided to look for my shelter. I was not alone. On social media and via text, friends began to share information on how to locate their nearest bunker. Swiss government websites assist in the process: Enter your home address and with one click you are directed to your designated place of safety.
My safe haven, it seems, is in my wine cellar. There are worse places to pass an emergency.
While it has not fought a war since 1847, Switzerland is well prepared for one. My shelter is one of some 300,000 private shelters in the country. There are also thousands of military bunkers sprinkled throughout the Swiss mountains –– remnants of the réduit national, a defensive plan developed in the 1880s.
Long after other European countries have scrapped compulsory military service, Swiss men must still serve. This has created a robust cohort of trained citizens. At any moment, more than 120,000 men can be called up for active duty.
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