Alerting the public

This is where you find some basic information about emergency population warning:

  • What do we warn about?’, tells you about hazardous situations or other critical events covered by the alert.
  • How do we warn you?’ provides an overview of the various alert channels and other sources of information about dangerous situations.
  • Who issues the warnings?’ tells you just that.
  • What is it you can do?’ lets you know how best to protect yourself in a specific situation and how best to prepare for an emergency.

What do we warn about?

Who issues the warnings?

The obligation to issue official warnings and alerts in Germany is regulated by law. Depending on the type and category of emergency, we are talking about a variety of agencies. In some cases, alerts and information come from several different agencies at a time, for example if evacuations are ordered. Given that recipients sometimes have trouble identifying the source of the warning, each alert is labelled with the name of the issuing agency.

Illustration: Modulares Warnsystem (MoWaS)

The Federal Government

Various Federal agencies are tasked to provide statutory warnings. The German Weather Service (DWD) covers hazardous weather conditions. The Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH) is responsible for tide predictions, water levels and storm surges whilst the National Office for Information Security (BSI) tells you all you need to know about cyber attacks, viruses and Trojan Horse malware. In case of war, the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Assistance (BBK) would issue alerts to the population, for example in the event of a missile attack. BBK also operates the Modular Warning System.

Illustration: Leitstelle

The states

A MoWaS station is embedded with each of the sixteen state government situation centres. The State Government will provide support in cases where towns, cities or districts cannot cope. The State Government situation room will then organise and coordinate the necessary efforts. It is then up to them to issue the warnings and alerts. If there is a threat of war, the states would make their warning devices available to the Federal Government.

Illustration: Feuerwache

Fire Service

Both voluntary and full-time fire brigades are run by local councils, given that fire protection and emergency assistance are statutory tasks. Where large numbers of people are affected, warnings and alerts are issued by fire service command centres where emergency calls are taken and operations coordinated. The type of alert channel used depends on technical equipment and manpower levels.

Illustration: Polizeiwagen


Public order and safety is a matter for the state police services. Police will issue a warning if the flow of traffic is affected, for example in the event of accidents or road closures, or where people need to be brought to safety very quickly (bomb threats, unexploded ordnance, acts of violence). Many police forces have been using social media such as Twitter or Facebook for warning in emergencies for several years now.

Illustration: Hochwasser

Flood warning centres

Each state operates flood warning centres which provide information about the water levels of rivers and lakes. Details are published via a joint interstate website and a variety of smartphone apps. Alerts are issued as soon as water levels get dangerously high.

Illustration: Sturmwarnung

German Weather Service

DWD, as Germany’s national meteorological service provider, warns of weather hazards and dangerous conditions such as storms, heavy rainfall, thunderstorms, heat waves or cold snaps. Weather trends are monitored 24/7 by meteorologists. Trigger values determine the moment a forecast turns into an early warning or an alert.

Wer warnt?

In Deutschland ist gesetzlich geregelt, wer amtlich warnen muss. Abhängig von der Art der Gefahr sind das unterschiedliche Behörden. Bei einigen Ereignissen geben auch mehrere Behörden gleichzeitig Warnungen und Gefahreninformationen heraus, zum Beispiel bei Evakuierungen. In amtlichen Warnungen ist deshalb immer klar gekennzeichnet, wer die Warnung herausgegeben hat.

Illustration: Modulares Warnsystem (MoWaS)

Der Bund

Den Warnauftrag der Bundesregierung führen verschiedene Bundesbehörden aus. Der Deutsche Wetterdienst (DWD) ist für gefährliche Wetterlagen zuständig. Das Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrografie (BSH) übernimmt den Bereich Gezeiten, Wasserstand und Sturmflut, und das Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (BSI) informiert über alles rund um Cyber-Attacken, Viren und Trojaner. Das Bundesamt für Bevölkerungsschutz und Katastrophenhilfe (BBK) würde die betroffene Bevölkerung bei Kriegsgefahren warnen, zum Beispiel bei einem Raketenangriff. Das BBK ist auch der Betreiber des Modularen Warnsystems.

Illustration: Leitstelle

Die Bundesländer

In jedem Lagezentrum der 16 Bundesländer steht eine Station des Modularen Warnsystems. Das jeweilige Bundesland unterstützt, wenn die Auswirkungen einer Gefahr so groß sind, dass Städte und Kreise sie nicht allein bewältigen können. Die Lagezentren der Landesregierungen organisieren und koordinieren dann die benötigten Mittel. Für die Formulierung und Herausgabe von Warnungen sind sie damit auch zuständig.

Illustration: Feuerwache


Sowohl Freiwillige als auch Berufsfeuerwehren sind Einrichtungen der Stadtverwaltungen, denn Brandschutz und Hilfeleistung bei Unfällen ist für jede Stadt gesetzliche Pflicht. Betrifft die Auswirkung einer Gefahr eine größere Gruppe von Menschen, so warnen die Feuerwehren über ihre Leitstellen. Leitstellen sind Koordinationszentren. Hier werden Notrufe angenommen, Einsätze koordiniert und auch Warnungen ausgegeben. Welche Warnkanäle dazu genutzt werden, hängt von der technischen Ausstattung und der Personalstärke ab.

Illustration: Polizeiwagen


Bei Gefahren für die öffentliche Sicherheit und Ordnung werden die Polizeien tätig. Warnungen gibt die Polizei zum Beispiel dann heraus, wenn der Verkehr betroffen ist –bei Unfällen und Sperrungen – oder wenn Menschen sich sehr schnell in Sicherheit bringen müssen, zum Beispiel bei Bombenfunden oder Gewalttaten.

Illustration: Hochwasser


Jedes Bundesland betreibt eigene Hochwassermeldedienste, die über den Wasserpegel von Flüssen und Seen informiert. Diese Informationen werden über eine gemeinsame Webseite der Bundesländer und über verschiedene Apps veröffentlicht. Sollten die Wasserpegel gefährlich hoch werden, wird eine amtliche Warnung ausgesprochen.

Illustration: Sturmwarnung

Deutscher Wetterdienst

Der Deutsche Wetterdienst gibt als nationaler Wetterdienst der Bundesrepublik Deutschland amtliche Warnungen vor gefährlichen Wetterlagen heraus: etwa Stürme, Starkregen, Gewitter, Hitze- und Kältewellen. Meteorologen – Wetterexperten – beobachten die Wetterentwicklung rund um die Uhr. Wann und ob aus einer Vorhersage eine Frühwarnung oder Warnung wird, ist anhand von Schwellenwerten genau definiert.

How do we warn you?

Radio and TV broadcasts are a quick way to disseminate warnings. Where time is of the essence, broadcasters can interrupt scheduled programmes and pass on the alert. Many large radio and TV stations have emergency power systems and therefore can continue to broadcast even in the event of a grid-wide blackout.

Vehicle-mounted PA systems are frequently used by fire brigade, police or other agencies to reach the largest possible number of people, especially if evacuations are necessary. If required, the message can then be broadcasted in several languages.

Sirens continue to play an important role, because their high/low wailing sound literally wakes people up. Upon hearing a siren, people should then turn to other channels, such as smartphone apps or local radio stations. A one-minute continuous siren sound will signal the all-clear.
Another signal, a one-minute continuous wail with two interruptions, is not intended for the population but is sounded to call firefighters to action.

Radio stations and newspaper have their own websites. Most are connected to the Modular Warning System, so that official warnings can be published with some degree of urgency. In addition, all current official warnings issued by the emergency management services can be obtained from Current water levels can be viewed on the joint website of the flood warning centres, The website of the German Weather Service,, will provide you with official alerts and a multitude of other information about weather, climate and research.

There is now a multitude of smartphone apps to send alerts via push notification. One of them is NINA, operated by the Federal Government’s. Others include BIWAPP and KATWARN which have been sharing warning messages with NINA since February 2019 for more user-friendliness. The aim is to give all users equal access to alert messages, no matter which app they have on their phone. WarnWetter is an app run by the German Weather Service (DWD). Their weather alerts are also sent by other apps. Private providers play the field, too. Some council-run apps are now also linked to the Modular Warning System and can therefore also republish official alerts.

Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat – those are extremely popular in Germany, too. Many government agencies now use Facebook and Twitter to rapidly spread warning messages. The downside is that, in the event of a power cut, servers go off line and the system then becomes unavailable.
Smart City is a name for the idea to make cities more eco-friendly, tech-savvy and socially inclusive. Part of this is the use of digital advertising boards for alerting the public to a danger. Control centres send warnings to large inner-city digital screens. This has the advantage that many people can be reached, and the messages are easy to see and to understand. Some cities are already using this technique.

New technologies help widen the options for spreading information, a trend that will go on. With a view to supplying information to as many people as possible, we work every day to find and develop new avenues and techniques. That said, the best thing is still to spread the word from person to person, and that goes for the authorities as well as for friends, families and neighbours.

Cranes are birds known for their vigilance and alertness. In Germany, the crane is therefore used as a symbol for the public warning and alert system. That is why the MoWaS video features the crane as a narrator, linking the four main scenarios, fire, flood, war and storm. Key aspects are the route travelled by the information and the recommended action as the crucial elements of an official alert.

What is it you can do?

With each alert will come a list of recommended activities and options for obtaining additional information. On top of this, BBK has come up with suggestions and a check list for protection and preparation. The material can be downloaded from the BBK web site.