Nearly 200 died in the floods that surged through the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and its neighbours earlier this year as the world watched on, shocked that one of the most organised nations in the world had been caught on the hop by Mother Nature.
When the waters receded the repair bill stood at around €13 billion for that single state and while there are certainly many lessons to learn, it seems the state government in Bonn has been prompted to move up a gear in its disaster planning to avoid a repeat of being caught flat footed in a disaster. Nie wieder – never again.
So tomorrow, the population of North Rhine-Westphalia will hold a prep session for the apocalypse by taking part in Blackout, the sexy name for National Disaster Protection Day 2021 when the point of the exercise is to imagine Germany suddenly plunged into darkness without electricity and how you would react in order to survive.
Cynics might brand the day of disaster a calculated PR stunt by a government under pressure to reassure a demoralised, corona-weary, lockdown-sick public that they have a grip on the situation as the nights draw in and the temperatures start to plummet. And those cynics might even be right.
But I cannot be the only person finding it hard to imagine any other nation on Earth attempting to turn preparedness for a catastrophic meltdown into a fun public day out for the whole family.
There’s even a full programme of entertainment in Bonn’s Münsterplatz featuring demonstrations and simulations from the emergency services, talks on themes like “Everybody’s welcome to civil protection,” warm words from the mayor of Bonn, speeches from a range of dignitaries and even some improvised comedy courtesy of Springmaus. Laugh your way through the apocalypse!
And if you can’t make it to the venue, don’t worry, you can livestream it into your home. Unless of course the electricity is cut.
State public officials have launched a flash booklet emblazoned with hazard warning tape, there are top tips on how to survive armageddon, when to use the phone, how to travel about, a quiz to see how long you’d survive if things went south and there’s even a video showing pensioners how to survive a chilly German evening if the home heating fails.
I tried the quiz and the news wasn’t good. My results returned the response, “In an emergency you might have a serious problem. You are not really well prepared yet and that can be uncomfortable in the event of a power failure.” Uncomfortable? Like dead uncomfortable?
And to rub salt in that wound, in the cosy video, a homely Oma makes an ingenious heating device using a terracotta flower pot and half a dozen tealights to keep her hands warm. No doubt she already has the hand-cranked radio and torches under the kitchen sink, the tyres on her bicycle inflated, a stash of drinking water hidden behind the sofa and a spare smartphone hooked up to a fully-charged power bank, all suggested by the campaign.
Now she can sit back and relax because this stockpile should safely see her through until the power returns. Unless she’s first discovered by a starving, roving, feral mob who decide to turn her into dinner.
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