Swiss Army, police turn WEF venue into a fortress

As the annual WEF talkfest of the elite of the world begins here Tuesday, nearly 5,000 Army personnel and hundreds of police staff have turned this small ski resort town into a fortress for a week.

PTI| Updated: Jan 19, 2016, 17:38 PM IST
Swiss Army, police turn WEF venue into a fortress

Davos: As the annual WEF talkfest of the elite of the world begins here Tuesday, nearly 5,000 Army personnel and hundreds of police staff have turned this small ski resort town into a fortress for a week.

The remote snow-laden town has a population of just about 10,000 but it will host more than 2,500 business and government leaders from across the world through this week for the 46th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.

Besides, there are about a thousand media members and other support staff, which along with the security personnel and others have virtually doubled the population of Davos for this week.

The five-day high profile meet begins today and will continue till Saturday, but the preparations have been underway for almost a month and a high security cover is also in place for almost a week now.

The security situation has become tougher this year, following terror attacks in Paris and other places in the recent months, due to which the police and other agencies have stepped up their vigil.

Also on the job are specially trained sniffer dogs, extensive checks for the vehicles entering the region, intensive monitoring of the entire area and various other checks and balances to ensure full safety and security for the event being attended by Prime Ministers, Presidents and top CEOs, among other global leaders.

The agencies at work include the Swiss Federal Office of Police, the country's Intelligence Service, Switzerland's border police as also the local police, while some foreign countries have also deployed personnel of their respective intelligence units.

Swiss Parliament has given its approval for deploying up to 5,000 Army personnel for the annual WEF meeting.

Besides, the air force is carrying out surveillance and transport flights, while access to the airspace above Davos has been restricted for others for this period.

Those coming through business jets need to land at the D?bendorf military airfield in Zurich from where they can fly in helicopters to Davos.

The Armed Forces' operation here includes protecting facilities and individuals, safeguarding air sovereignty, securing Swiss airspace, and with logistics, primarily through its Coordinated Medical Services (CMS), the Swiss Army said.

Up to 5,000 armed forces personnel have been deployed "in this civil affairs mission" for January 15-25, it added.

The Armed Forces will protect infrastructure (transport, and electricity and water supplies), carry out air policing missions in Swiss airspace, and assist the civilian authorities in logistics, command support and coordinated medical services.

Armed forces personnel, however, will not be involved in maintaining public order, as this is a police responsibility.

The Chief of the Armed Forces Joint Staff (AFJS), Major General Jean-Marc Halter, has been appointed commanding officer for this armed forces civil support operation in protection of the 2016 WEF meeting.

One of the units will ensure communication between the security services of the cantonal police force and the armed forces.

The police and military forces have been provided with facility protection material, monitoring devices, incident site lights, sand bags, medical service stations, and various office containers.

The local police has also been provided with armed forces devices such as fire extinguishers, radios, fence elements, flak jackets and vehicles.

The Swiss Air Force will be supporting the civilian authorities with transport and surveillance flights, using their helicopters, propeller planes and fighter jets.

A considerable increase in military air traffic and noise emission in some areas outside the region is also to be expected, the Army said.

Restrictions apply not only to helicopters and aeroplanes and January 18 onwards, the restrictions on flight operations apply to all airspace users, including model airplanes, drones, hang gliders and para-gliders. The Graub?nden cantonal police will issue special restrictions for this purpose.

The additional costs to the public authorities for security at the WEF Annual Meeting amount to a total of around 8 million Swiss francs.

This amount is shared between the partners, with anton Graubunden at CHF 2 million, Davos at one million, the Swiss Confederation three million and WEF two million, as per the Swiss Armed Forces.

In the event of any extraordinary incidents such as terrorist attacks, assassination attempts on politicians or business leaders, major threats of such acts, the Confederation will cover 80 per cent of the costs of additional arrangements required for internationally protected persons at the WEF annual meetings in Davos.

In the years 2007?2013, no claims were made.

The Army says that for the majority of troops deployed the armed forces' planned civil support duties do not cost significantly more than a regular training or flying service.

On the basis of the accounts for armed forces deployment at past WEF Annual Meetings, the cost of providing civil support duties amounts to around CHF 28.8 million and the costs are expected to remain within approved credit limit this year.

The WEF Annual Meeting generates significant direct and indirect economic effects for Davos, Graubunden and Switzerland as a whole.

As per a study, it generated additional turnover in 2001 of around CHF 42 million, of which over half benefited the canton of Graubunden; for Davos alone the figure was around CHF 23 million.

Winter sports in Davos are generally not affected during the WEF Annual Meeting as there are no general travel restrictions and the town is accessible by public transport, by road or on foot.

There are, however, preventive personal, vehicle and baggage checks on all access roads.

Within Davos, entry restrictions are in place in certain areas for the duration of the WEF Annual Meeting. These are security zones around the Congress Centre, as also some top hotels and the "Stilli" helicopter landing site. People living in the security areas have been issued with personal badges and car discs.