Omikron-Welle: What it means to be prepared for an emergency

Status: December 27, 2021 2:22 p.m.

Clinics, police, fire brigade, telecommunications or power supply: emergency plans should ensure that the Omikron wave does not paralyze this critical infrastructure. What does that mean in concrete terms? An example from Bremen.

By Kristian Klooss, Radio Bremen

Electricity and gas in winter, the voice on the telephone on police call 110, the emergency room in the hospital – without this critical infrastructure, nothing works in Germany. But there is great concern that the Omikron wave could soon paralyze those companies and organizations that would otherwise keep life going. For example, the number of new infections in the city of Bremen has skyrocketed over the holidays, the incidence value is now more than 300.

“It is very likely that a significant part of the increase is due to Omikron,” says the Bremen health authority in view of the increasing number of infections. The epidemiologist Hajo Zeeb from Bremen also warns: “The critical infrastructure in particular has to be prepared for many failures caused by quarantine cases.” The protection of critical infrastructure such as hospitals, police, fire brigade, rescue services, telecommunications, electricity and water supply, announced by the federal-state crisis team shortly before Christmas, is now also becoming the focus in the Hanseatic city.

Critical infrastructure: State and private operators prepare for staff shortages

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Five-person crisis team

Coordinating this is the task of a central crisis team in Bremen. Its leader, Uwe Schmid, and his five-person team have already reacted to the impending fifth wave. They meet again twice a week instead of just weekly. “We have also asked all departments to sift through their pandemic and hygiene plans and to adjust them in relation to the significantly increasing number of infections and thus likely increased staff absences,” says Schmid. There is no master plan. How the important authorities, companies and organizations plan for the pandemic-related personnel emergency is up to them.

At the municipal utility SWB, for example, there is no trace of concern. Even with a high level of sick leave, basic services such as troubleshooting services are assured, reports the company with around 2250 employees. If necessary, staff would be withdrawn from less important areas, says a spokeswoman. “Of course, when the going gets tough, activities are prioritized.”

Clinic association postpones treatments

Those responsible at the Bremen Clinic Association Health North (Geno) are a little more concerned. In its four hospitals, in which around 8,200 people work, operations are already being postponed in order to get through the Omikron crisis, says a spokesman. For Bremen, however, the situation is stable overall. “If you get seriously ill, you don’t have to worry.” The situation could develop differently in the case of rather minor illnesses, the treatment of which would have to be postponed in some cases in the event of a lack of staff.

The crisis team in Bremen is preparing for the fifth wave of pandemics.

Image: Radio Bremen

Bremen’s police are comparatively covered. “We do everything that is necessary to reduce the dangers of infection internally to a minimum and to guarantee the security-relevant areas, such as the 110 emergency number,” it says there. What exactly the plan will look like when a large part of the approximately 2,400 police officers and around 300 civilian employees of the Bremen police report incapacitated remains open. The same applies to around 1,500 volunteers and the Bremen fire brigade. “We are not now assuming that we will be so badly affected that we can no longer ensure the operational business,” says their spokesman.

Police and fire brigade update plans

Bremen’s interior department refers to existing pandemic plans from last year with regard to the police and fire brigade. A spokeswoman said that these are currently being updated in the company’s own internal crisis team and, if necessary, sharpened. “It is also clear that we have to prioritize tasks and shut down others,” says a department spokeswoman. With a staff failure rate of ten percent, this has a different effect than with 20 or 30 percent.

People are already feeling the effects of a high sickness rate on a critical infrastructure in local public transport. At the municipal transport company BSAG, around 70 of the 1,100 employees in the transport service stayed at home almost in one fell swoop in mid-December. The result: every 20th bus and tram trip is currently canceled. And further cuts would also be the method of choice in an emergency. “In the worst case, Saturday or even Sunday schedules would also have to be run during the week,” says a BSAG spokesman.

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